Column: Thoughts to guide our 2023 high school graduates

In the next few weeks the 26,727 American high schools will be graduating roughly 3.2 million students. After graduation 62% will go on to enroll at a college, university, or trade school. Of those that enroll, 64% will graduate with a degree contributing to the 38% of the U.S. population over age 25 that has graduated from college. What advice do we give our 2023 high school graduates?

We understand that these grads are known as the Gen Z generation which many refer to as the digital natives. They have non-traditional ambitions and are money driven, they don’t like to take on debt. They love to travel and are prone to experience anxiety. They are known to set boundaries, an important boundary is demanding work/life balance in any career they take on. A large portion of them are gamers of some sort which takes up much of their leisure time. They are heavy users of social media as a source of inspiration. They also use it to search for answers, often Google searching for solutions on their phones or Tik Tok. They are concerned about preserving our environment and value access to objects and services over possession. These are obviously trends for the generation, but many possess some or all of these tendencies.

This generation of grads has experienced an unprecedented upheaval in their K-12 education experience with the COVID epidemic. Many went from socialization to isolation and back. They have experienced deepening political division in our society, with many judging compromise as a weakness, not a strength. They now enter a world of ChatGPT where a computer program can solve the problems you present to it from writing a research paper to computer code to guide a robot to complete a task.

Past guidance to graduates referenced inspirational quotes from famous people such as: Steve Jobs – “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Thomas Jefferson – “If you want something you never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.”

Winston Churchill – “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words of wisdom – “What lies beneath us and what lies before us are smaller matters compared to what lies within us.”

My thoughts are much simpler. Many define happiness as “an enduring state of mind consisting not only of feelings of joy, contentment, and other positive emotions, but also of a sense that one’s life is meaningful and valued.”

To achieve happiness we must be life-long learners allowing us to become better at our job, being a spouse/father/mother/partner, and being a contributing member of our community. Whether you choose college or head directly into a career, continue to learn. When you are at work/college focus on the tasks at hand. Be “present”, focus on the moment and the need at work or home.

Don’t be afraid to fail, it is a way we learn and grow. You will not be judged by your failure, but how you respond to it. Learn from it, make needed changes, and move forward. “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill.

2023 Grads, enjoy the present, keep your eyes on the future, continue to learn and become a better you with happiness being your goal. Congratulations on graduating from high school, there are still many achievements ahead for each of you. Good luck on your life journey!


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