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Graduating seniors: keep your head up

Gary J. Caruso | Friday, April 27, 2012

Like generations before, and many who will follow in generations to come, this year’s seniors face both excitement and uncertainty as graduation nears. Their secure campus routines are about to forever change. An eccentric, uncertain world looms dead ahead – one slowly rebounding from a great economic recession while anemically expanding job opportunities. For my soon-to-be graduated and future neighbors, let me offer some advice to relieve your pain and ease your transition.

First, your waking moments will forever change in May. Friends will disperse across the globe. Some will never be seen again, while others will reunite sporadically throughout your lifetime. Some may die early – way too early to prevent your heart from breaking or a gnawing feeling of loss from haunting you for the remainder of your days. Therefore, drink in every remaining campus moment you have until graduation, so that you can slow time and savor your final student seconds on campus. Those memories will burn more vividly as your path away from campus lengthens.

Second, nothing you do can fully restore the antics, weekend parties or casual relationships that dominated your student way of life. Gone is the option to begin the day with a late class or break your afternoon with a much-needed nap. Your lives are about to be replete with unwelcome, mandatory, yet-to-be-determined regimented sleep and work schedules – that is, once you have accepted a job. Remember, careers rarely begin with the first job out of college. My initial post-graduate position began at Radio Shack.

As unique as national conditions today may seem to seniors, I faced similar factors upon my graduation from Notre Dame decades ago. The trick to succeeding after graduation is in utilizing your optimism and persistence. In fact, searching for a job is a job in itself; so treat any job search as a full-time commitment. Learn to network with anyone and everyone who has the slightest commonality with you. Pick your head up away from your smartphone and interact personally with others. Ask to “have coffee” to individually meet and discuss leads or specific prospects. Offer to drop off your résumé to gain a quick moment of face-to-face time. Coincidentally “run into” someone, but within the limitations of local stalking laws. Mold your opportunities, and your perseverance will eventually pay dividends.

Like my classmates of decades ago, the Class of 2012 will face frustrations and setbacks, sometimes for consecutive years on end. How anyone reacts to adversity determines whether you can become like Rudy, who was allowed to be a hero on the last play of the game, or simply a failure. Be confident, determined and utilize your innocent bravado to make an impression in the workforce. You don’t necessarily need to resurrect your “tell-it-like-it-is” bluntness of youth, but always be honest in your advice and approach. Your character will be built on your professional reputation for being truthful and keeping your head up from your smartphone during meetings.

Within our uber-snarky and anonymously impersonal digital age, always remember the past while you look ahead to what’s cool, what’s happening or what’s the latest in life. Remember that your schoolyard code of ethics was developed instinctively from your own common sense, competitive spirit and natural ability to be reasonable without strict formal rules, nagging coaches, blind referees or overzealous adult supervision. Now that you have fine-tuned that code while on the campus quads and in the campus dormitories, you are ready to face the world. The world that depends not on petty “gotcha” moments, like those played endlessly through presidential political advertising this year. The world – your future, my future, our futures – that depends upon fairness, teamwork and justice. Champion to balance that trilogy of values in your endeavors.

Someday – and it will seem like forever from now – you will sit in my seat, cushioned with retrospection and hindsight. The moments you relished during your last days on campus will still flicker with clarity. You will share the hard-learned secrets that you utilize each day to reconcile conflict or to merely coexist peacefully with those unlike yourself. You will have mastered the transition of leaving like-minded persons with like-minded values on campus for a peaceful coexistence and respect for your neighbors who are different in both thought and deed. You will have learned that what makes life real are the everyday routines and the ordinary lives we encounter. You will know the advantages of experience.

In the meantime, while your uncertainties abound like land mines on a battlefield, I know that the Class of 2012 will succeed. The old saying indicates that much is expected from those to whom much is given. The opportunity to graduate may have been given to this year’s seniors, but graduation was earned through a will to succeed. Through the good and bad, our seniors will succeed by keeping their heads up (away from their smartphones) and focusing on their dreams and ideals.

Best of success to the class of 2012.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.