Every year since Finance For Youth: The Blog started, I put together an address to the graduating class of that year. Generally, I will give a list of pieces of advice for the graduates to keep in mind as they move forward into the next, most exciting stage of their lives. This year will have some advice, but I want to talk about a couple of lessons that I have learned since I started working with young people directly.
As a teacher, I’m supposed to be the one who gives you all lessons that will carry you from where you are now, through the rest of your life. That’s what I went to school for, and that is what you went to school for. But education is not a one-way exchange. A good teacher who is confident in their own abilities is able to talk about what you have taught us. I hope that I can be that person, because working with all of you has taught me so much both good and bad, that I will take with me forever, and I hope you can take some of it with you too.
You have to keep a thick skin (and a solid jaw)!
The Lesson: The lesson I learned here, and one that I believe can serve you well is to take a minute (or even longer if needed) before you jump in with both feet. People generally have a set of beliefs that they will change, but not instantly. Young people are really good at being different and changing things, and sometimes that causes trouble with others. But you can’t walk timidly into every situation: Sometimes you have to take the hit to earn the reward. Do your best to only take the hit when you are sure the reward is worth it.
Sometimes Rock Stars can be quiet!
Over the past few years, I’ve had the fortune of having some colleagues offer me very high praise and very nice compliments. In past careers, I expected this, but I’ve never done anything as important as teaching. In past years, I walked around my office like I was the King, and dared people to challenge me. Now, I find that people respond just as well to someone who walks with confidence instead of arrogance.
The Lesson: Nobody knows how good you are at what you do better than you do. You have some choices on how to let others know. On one hand, you can jump up on a pedestal and shout into your megaphone about how good you are. People will understand, but they may not always agree. On the other hand, you can take pride in doing your job well and other people will start picking up their own megaphones for you.
Many things are shades of grey, but not everything!
One thing I see daily is an erosion of what I learned about right and wrong. Due to the nature of my job, I’ve been able to see that erosion as it hits children at every stage of development. In Kindergarten, you learn about absolutes and how right is right and wrong is wrong. By sixth grade, you learn that everybody has their own moral compass, and it is wrong to judge others through your compass. By the tenth grade you learn that really right and wrong are subjective in every sense.
The Lesson: Some of the most important lessons you have ever learned you learned in your earliest, formative years. Don’t be in a rush to supplant the values you learned back then for excuses that you learn today. The fact is that we educators have failed you, and continue to do so every time we help destroy what you have always known to be true.
There are many more lessons that I’ve learned from you, my students. Many of them were learned at a great personal cost to someone, and I try to honor that price paid by remembering and sharing the lessons daily. Some were learned while I was trying to learn something else entirely, and I stumbled upon a pot of gold that is wisdom. Those lessons I try to make available to others in as many places as possible, in the hopes that more people will stumble upon them and in turn share them with others. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my students is that there is only so much education one can stand before you either fall asleep or try to escape. With that being said, congratulations to the class of 2011! You are all stars who have the unique ability to keep getting brighter without ever burning out. Enjoy the next stage as much or more as you have this stage, and look back only through the lenses of fond memory of a time when life was easier than it will ever be again, and only with the full knowledge that life has prepared you for anything you might face from here on out!