Advice for graduates: poke holes in the darkness

Spring is a time for new beginnings, which is certainly true for the 2016 graduates who are about to step into the “real world.” If you could give advice to these young people who are about to embark on the next chapter of their lives, what would it be?

I’ve thought about this question a lot over the years. First, when my own sons were graduating high school and then again when I was given the honor of delivering the commencement address to the University of Denver’s 2014 MBA graduating class. And even though taking a test is the last thing a student with a newly printed diploma wants to do, I challenged them – and now you – to take this quick quiz.

Can you name:
• the five wealthiest people in the world?
• five people who have won the Pulitzer prize?
• the last five Miss Americas?

Now, can you name:
• five teachers who helped you get through school?
• five people who helped you navigate the “real world”?
• five role models who helped light your path?

How did you do? I’ll bet you could name more in the second group than you could in the first group. And that seems to be the case universally.

One of the people I can name is Mr. Peery, my high school Junior Achievement volunteer. He was important to me because after the first semester my sophomore year of college, I quit school. I took a series of jobs that I didn’t have much passion for and it was Mr. Peery who helped change the course of my meandering path. Because of him, I am the first and only person in my family to graduate from college. I’m honestly not sure where my path would have led without Mr. Peery shining a little light on it for me.

It reminds me of a story by Robert Lewis Stevenson about a night as a young boy growing up in Scotland. He was sitting at the window in his family’s kitchen, looking down at the town, and seeing the lamplighter walk down the street lighting the street lamps. And said: “look momma! There is a man down there punching holes in the darkness!”

There are so many kids who need holes punched in the darkness like Mr. Peery did for me. Thankfully, we have the opportunity and freedom to play a role in a powerful force for good in this world. So my advice to the 2016 graduates is simple: Punch holes in the darkness for others; it will pay dividends in the currency of happiness.