An Open Letter to the Graduating Class of 20XX

I remember when I graduated from college back in 2008, seems like it was a lifetime ago. I was exhausted from working myself though school, so many sleepless nights and frustrated moments. In December of 2008 I walked across the stage at UT Arlington, and was ready to take on the world.

I remember going to work with my dad growing up. From the first time I saw his degree hanging on his office wall I began adding things up in my mind, and more importantly in my spirit. I don’t think I realized how much weight I was putting on that piece of paper all those years.

But in putting that moment of graduation on a pedestal, I was setting myself up for years of disappointment after graduation. Instead of telling you congrats (which you deserve), I’m going to write you the letter I wish I would have gotten back in 2008. I’m going to say everything that your parents, friends, and your teachers probably won’t tell you. It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s the truth. And with that in mind, I give you…

An open letter to the class of 20XX

First off, congrats for making it through college alive. There were so many reasons you could have given up, quit, and done other things. You have learned a lot, but very little of it will help you in the next phase of your life. I know you went to college to prepare you for a job, but very few of you will actually use your degree from this point on.

What it will do is allow you is apply for jobs that other people can’t, demand a slightly higher salary, and in general make more money over the course of your life. There are so many great things about college, so hear me loud and clear, you did the right thing.

But you know all that already, you’ve been told it your entire life. We went to college because it entitled us to a better life. Sadly, that’s where most of the problems start. Do you feel like you deserve a high paying job? I know I did.

Here’s the problem, this isn’t the same economy your parents graduated in. This isn’t the same world your teachers in college grew up in. I will rarely say don’t take advice from your elders, but this is one subject where they simply can’t help us.

If you grew up in a time where water was always plentiful, how would you be able to tell someone how to live through a drought? I graduated in one of the worst job droughts in recent history. My parents had no idea what I was going through.

You need a job, and it’s time to go to work regardless of where it is. You have a college degree, but might have to work at a job that doesn’t even need a degree. Your first feeling the day you start working at a job you feel under qualified for can be pretty rough. I worked at 3 or 4 jobs after college that didn’t even need a degree. Hect, at times I thought about going back to jobs I had during school.

Doubt and regret can be powerful depressants if left unchecked. Surround yourself with positive people!

Having a job that doesn’t require a degree after college isn’t the end of the world. We just aren’t prepared for it mentally. As college grads we are ready for $65,000 a year, full benefits, and a brand new car. Here’s the facts, in all, 17 million Americans with college degrees are working at jobs that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Nearly half of all college graduates are working at a job not requiring a degree.

The fact that you don’t have your dream job is bad enough, but we didn’t just promise ourselves a job now did we? The college degree means so much more than it should. We expect the job, and the job affords us the luxury of the other great american dream, buying your first house.

When you end up not making what you thought you would, you end up living where you thought you’d never be again. Of the members of the class of 2011, 85 percent of you will have to move back in with their parents after you graduate.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to realize that college isn’t the end of tunnel. You studied hard, and you will reap the fruit of your labor in the right timing. It just might not be when the moment you walk across the stage and get your diploma.

Now the real learning begins. So what should you look for in a job? Find someone who will do more than just pay you, find a mentor who will educate you. College prepared you to learn, something you will do the rest of your life. The real currency of your future isn’t your salary, it’s wisdom.

When I graduated all I saw was salary, and that is the worst possible way to evaluate the right job. The right job isn’t the one that pays the most, it’s the one that will teach and train you the most. The best job is the one with the potential for you to grow as the company grows. Preferably with stock options along the way!

Just a little secret about this. If you love what you do, stay humble, and surround yourself with people that value wisdom, you usually end up making a lot of money anyways.

I’ll say this one more time loud and clear. It’s not time to go crazy impressing your friends. I know you really want to show that your degree meant something, but that’s pride. You earned your degree, and nobody can take it away from you. That’s the value of it. Ten dollars an hour or a hundred thousand a year, your degree is still worth the same.

Want a big dose of humility? The median starting salary for those who graduated from four-year degree programs in 2010 was $27,000.

This is a brain race, it’s no longer warm and fuzzy. If you hate education, lifelong learning will be a forced march. If you stop learning, you will become unemployed and unemployable very quickly.

Keep learning, never stop learning, and surround yourself with people that enjoy learning. See a common theme yet?

This isn’t just about you. At the risk of sounding too patriotic, America needs our help as young people. There are now almost 46 million people in the United States on food stamps. We are $14,000,000,000,000 in debt, although the actual number is likely much higher. Get your finances in order, if you don’t believe me ask Dave Ramsey.

It’s time to get your head out of the clouds and get to work. I know you think that 4 years of college will now reward you with a lifetime of relaxing at a 9-5 cushy job, but me at 23, your sadly mistaken. The good news? If you read this, and took it to heart, you are now 3 years ahead of where I was at your age.

Want to know where you will be in 5 years? Ask yourself what your 5 closest friends will be doing in 5 years. If you think they will be doing pretty much the same thing, with pretty much the same problems, so will you.