Ah, ’tis graduation season. We’ll see kids moving onward to higher grades, children moving on from the Dawson’s Creek-like world of high school and so called young-adults graduating from college and entering the ‘real world’. Well, one constant among graduations is the big speaker who’ll bestow his or her wisdom upon the graduates, inspiring them to reach for the stars and that nothing is impossible! Yes! Hooray! Okay, let’s get real: there’s a lot of stuff that these speakers, and even parents, siblings, friends and family just don’t tell graduating students that they should.

I’m all for the 1980s Ronald Reagan positive spin on icky situations. We all need those speeches and words of encouragement, but we also need some hardcore advice so that our young adults are delusional. The older I get, the more I realize younger people are just getting more delusional with what they think is the real world. Is it there fault? Well, in part, yes because most aren’t taking the time to better themselves and are instead waiting around for a fairy godmother or suitor to come by and make them rich or make their dreams and wishes come true. I also blame society in general: most aren’t saying a thing anymore. We like to sit back, speak in private and wait for someone to make a big mistake and then jump up and put our two cents in on what they shoulda, coulda, or what we woulda done had we been in there position.

So, listen to your speakers at your graduation. Most are successful to some degree and have made something out of their mediocre lives and circumstances. Now sit back and read what I have to say because these are things probably no one else is telling you or plans on telling you anytime soon:

High School Graduates: Oh, wasn’t high school FUN?! Yeah, the parties, the school plays, that awesome trip to [Fill in the Blank]. Oh, and gosh, wasn’t it hard? The SATs, worrying about whether This or That University was going to accept you or not? Wow, seems like only 4 years ago you were the little guy/gal on campus looking up to the seniors thinking or wondering how you’d make it there. You’ve worked hard, you’ve made good, or decent grades, enough to get you into your first, second or perhaps last option school. Good for you. GOOD FOR YOU! You deserve a break, you need to celebrate, kick back, let mommy and daddy treat you and coddle over you while they can because hey, we know in a few months you ain’t looking back when you’re at This or That University! Hellz no, you’re all grown up! This is your moment!

Okay, how was that fantasy? You need to get real. First of all, let’s deal with mom and dad. One of them (or both if you’re lucky) has really invested a lot of time and effort into getting you through birth to graduating high school. You probably are sick of your dinky little city or hometown, you think you’re all that and you’re not going to need them soon when you’re at This or That University. Get over yourself. I’ve seen even some tough guys in high school turn into blabbering babies a month or so into college life because they didn’t realize how good they had it all these years. You’re going to miss being at home, so just prepare for it, yes, you may not understand it, but you will. Before you burn your bridges, soak it up and spend some time with your family you’ll soon be leaving behind because when you’re trapped in your little closet of a dorm room with some spoiled brat who thinks they deserve the best and should make all the rules, you’ll be sorry!

Wise up about money. College really isn’t much about the course work or exams, it’s all about money. Like they sang in Cabaret, money makes the world go ’round. Your professors are not your high school teachers: they aren’t going to give a damn about you, why you aren’t passing your exams, what sports team you’re on or nothing. Most won’t even know your name and they don’t care to learn it! The money you or your parents have taken out in loans is what they care about. The moment you send back that acceptance letter, sorry to say, you’ve become a nobody in their view. They wanted your money, and they’ve got it. College is a financial commitment. You’ll spend 4 years in college but you’ll be paying for it for 30 or more years. Oh, wait, nobody ever put it to you like that, did they? Yeah, you think a hundred dollars is a lot of money? Five hundred? Well, college graduates these days leave college owing 20 some thousand dollars … if they’re lucky. Most owe 30, 40, 70, over a 100 some thousand if they go on to medical school or pursue higher degrees. So yeah, another reason why you need to treat your parents right is because most will be helping you afford college so guess what, YOU OWE THEM and the government! Be wise – instead of blowing your refund money each semester on say … clothes, gadgets, toys, you’d be wise to take that money and start paying back your loans. Not only are you charged a lot for some classes you probably don’t need or will never apply to your actual career but you’re charged interest on that! Congratulations! In four years (if you’re lucky and don’t become a 5th or 6th year senior) you’re going to get a degree and a bill that’ll probably put you in debt!

Let’s discuss the finer things about college. Roommates. You probably have this jaded idea that you and your roommates are going to be pals and buddies. Well, forget it, roommates suck and dorm living is horrific. If you’ve seen Survivor or Fear Factor, imagine something ten times worse and you’ll be in the ballpark of what you’ll experience living on campus with some stranger. Your high school pals and buddies? Forget them too because after a month or so, all of you and your so called BFFs and gangs are going to be forming new cliques, identities and the older you get, the more you’ll realize you really didn’t know any of them all that well and there was a lot of crap you didn’t like about them. It’s okay to sever ties with your so-called friends – you’ll be better for it in most cases.

Classes? It’s a funny thing. You have to go to class. You have to do the work, write the papers, do the readings. There’s just no getting around it. I mean, you ARE paying for it and trust, you will be paying for it for years and decades to come so you might as well get the most out of your classes. Most of your instructors could care less if you pass or fail their course. Most of your instructors are pompous, self indulgent and enjoy having a forum where students MUST listen to them and buy their books. Sometimes you can actually do good by sucking up to him/her (and please, NOT LITERALLY) just so they know you from the crowd. But still … even though your classes and how well you do in them means everything for getting your degree, guess what … most of those courses are going to end up being a big ‘ole waste of money. I took political science courses, history courses, economics, physical education courses … all for a degree in graphic design. The worst part? Even the graphic design courses weren’t much help! Most of what you’ll learn that’s going to be the most valuable to you will come from your interactions with people outside of class or what you learn in internships or clubs. So, get involved outside of classes and stuffing your face with pizza and fattening foods because otherwise you’re screwed.

College Graduates: You may have read the above section and you’re probably laughing. Maybe you read something that reminded you of your college experience or maybe you were lucky enough to have a great experience. Well good for you! Now you listen up! You’ve graduated, so what? Who cares? I really hope you spent your time networking and planning ahead because if you think you’re just going to walk up and get your diploma and have a job handed to you, sorry kiddo, you’ve seriously been kidding yourself. These days, jobs are hard to come by. You can’t really be picky about what you want to do. If there’s an opportunity presented to you and you’re qualified, GO FOR IT. So what, it’s not in the city you wanted to be, it’s not a title you wanted, it’s in a different industry than what you had planned on. Again, so what, who cares?

Listen. You can hold out and be picky and go further in debt … or you can start on your path to becoming a real adult and get a job, move out on your own and enjoy your freedom. I understand some people need to move back home – but I don’t understand people who forever want to stay there. And are your parents still paying for your lifestyle? Oh, you think that’s cute … they are paying for your car, your insurance, your clothes, your food … no, that ain’t cute. Your parents are probably maxed out like your credit cards. Oh wait, it’s THEIR credit card? Grow the f*ck up. You’re an adult now, you’re in the real world. Get a job, get a decent apartment for yourself and start paying for your own stuff. If you have a credit card, only charge your utilities to it and then pay off the card at the end or start of each month. Then put the card away. Living off credit cards isn’t at all being an adult, it’s being irresponsible. Do you have a savings account? Checking? A Roth IRA? An emergency fund? Well, you’re about 21 or 22 so do you know if you can put away money now in an IRA (meaning you don’t touch it or spend it until you’re in your 60s) you will have tons of money when you’re ready to retire? A lot of the jobs out there now don’t have a lot of benefits so you’ll need to become a financial expert real quick. Start watching Suze Orman, read a book titled ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich’. Yes, life will be somewhat boring because you’ll just be working and saving, but you are allowed to treat yourself every now and then … just not every single day of your life. You aren’t a kid anymore.

Learn to cook. I’m talking to both men and women. You’ll save lots of money by not eating out every day of the week. Plus, there’s nothing hotter than a guy or gal who actually knows what to cook. Get a reliable car and stick with it for as long as it lasts. Stop wasting your money on leasing or paying off a car and getting another one just because you’re bored with what you have. Get healthy! I look at people I’ve gone to school with, whether it be college or even high school, and they’ve just let themselves go. I mean, really, the ‘before’ wasn’t all that great and the ‘after’ is all shock and awe, and not of the good sort. Getting healthy will reduce your health care cost, probably put a cap on wasteful spending, fend off depression and more. Plus, you’ll look great and that comes with it’s own perks. My other advice? Stop rushing life. I’ve seen people leap out of college and right into full-blown adulthood: kids, marriage, buying a house … are you serious? You’ll have tons of years and decades to get to all of that so spend your 20s getting yourself established and build your savings and then think about other stuff.

So, there you have it. Yes, life isn’t all roses or filled with perks and great stuff. Yes, you have done a great job if you’ve at least graduated high school or college, but now the real work begins. So, soak it up because life’s about to get busier and suckier from here on!

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