Advice for graduation season


For over four decades, my career path has found roots in the educational system. As a “baby boomer,” I have observed changing attitudes of the generations of students I have taught. With each, I have attempted to discover teaching methods that addressed the “so what” moment with an “aha” response.

The graduation season is upon us, and the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” will be followed by those standard speeches filled with advice for the future. When I recall my own graduations, I somewhat remember what was said, but I was clueless as to how it should be interpreted.

I now know that life eventually provides the teachable moments that were emphasized by those mentors and leaders. The speeches were giving me the answers to the test long before the questions were written.


Recently I came across an article titled “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You!” It was written by Charles Wheelan, an author and teacher of economics and public policy. Most of these selected points are research-driven, but they also have roots in the common sense factors of life.

With a few alterations, I followed his lead and have developed a version written with more of my own perspective. I have selected these pearls of wisdom to coordinate with whatever “Senior” moments and perspectives are happening in your life.


1: Your time spent in those experiences outside of the traditional classroom (like dairy judging) have served you well.

Research shows that one of the most important factors linked to happiness and well-being are those connections you made while attempting to practice core values. Ten to 20 years from now, you will be surprised how many of those friendships and experiences have defined your life.

2: Graduation time is happy, but you are going to face times when circumstances will require tough choices. You are going to continue being tested. It is those times that will define your character much more so than the “happy days.”

3: Try not to add to the issues of the world. You will be advised to do great things, but maybe you should first learn to accomplish the smaller goals in a great way. Giving back to those who gave to you should be included in your master plan. Become a volunteer and a mentor for youth and other ages. Perhaps you will learn that changing yourself is more important than changing the world.

4: It is OK to be competitive, but have fun. Throw your caps into the air and let fate take charge (on occasion). The journey is still what matters most, and there is a greater reward than a rosette or blue ribbon. Doing your personal best should not be underestimated. Continue to make the best better.

5: Change is inevitable. I can sure relate to most of my higher education papers being done on a typewriter as opposed to this keyboard, but I have adapted. Authentic leaders are thinking ahead of their peers and they use those ideas to mentor change.

6: We often say that parents want the best for you, but in reality, they would like what is good for you. There is a difference, and only you and your parents can write that definition. However, if you become a parent, the answers will come more easily through maturity.

7: Do not model your life like the county fair, with all kinds of activities happening at once. You can run yourself in circles and not be able to find a way to stop the motion. Instead, use the teeter-totter logic of trying to find balance. Although it only lasts a few seconds, you will find rewards in balancing family and your work life.

8: Life is sometimes about luck and good timing. Having skills will set the stage and provide you a measure of control, but you can’t manage luck. It is what it is (as they say). You should not take tomorrow for granted.

9: Find someone special to share time with, or better yet, let them find you and make a genuine commitment. Seal the deal possibly with a certificate and your name signed on it. It is a diploma of sorts. Seize the opportunity.

10: Graduation is a lifelong process. It is gradual. Whether you are the graduate or the one planning the graduation party, you will complete a milestone at the exact same moment you will begin another.

So there you have it. No need to write a book on the topic, but by writing this, I, too, am reminded of my own evolution and advice that I should attempt to follow more closely. Best wishes, and good luck!


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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.



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