Saturday, May 25, 2013

Advice To The New College Graduate

Dear Graduate:
When I first graduated from college I remember how I felt that I had accomplished some great thing; looking back now I can see that education itself is no great thing, but merely a necessary foundation for life.  Education is kind of like building a piano: if you take the time you can create a truly fine instrument, but if you stop there all you’ve done is created a piece of furniture --- and not a particularly useful one at that.  You cannot sit on it, or bathe in it and it doesn’t tell time.  But, you might quickly respond: “That’s not what it’s for.”  Ahh, you begin to see my point.  A piano is made to create beautiful music, not to be something which just sits in a corner, but something which can be used to enrich your life.  That is the value of your education, and like the piano it is something you must now learn how to use.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
To make music to your name, O most High.
  – Psalm 92
One thing you undoubtedly notice about old people, Graduate, is that many of them think they are wise.  I would not be so brash.  I am wise only insofar as I agree with the adage that “A truly wise man knows how unwise he is.”  All our life we are meant to take education and experience and use them, with God’s grace, to grow in wisdom and holiness.  You are just at the beginning.
You know what wisdom is, Graduate; you’ve experienced the feeling of wisdom.  Since I also majored in science (Physics) I’m sure you had some classes where you memorized tons of facts and formulas because you HAD TO memorize them; they just didn’t make sense.  Then suddenly one day – or perhaps in some more advanced class: Bang!  You looked back at all the A’s and B’s and C’s you’d memorized and realized they equaled or implied a D.  Suddenly you saw the light:  the reason and sense of what once was only a memorized knowledge.  That is what wisdom is, and it cannot be memorized, or indeed taught.  There are only seeds of knowledge which you can plant which may grow into wisdom.
And so I take this opportunity to offer you some of the knowledge I have gained over my life, some of it gained “the hard way” and at great cost.  Perhaps this will make things easier for you, and you can advance even further than I have to date, and perhaps you might even see the wisdom of some things.
The following are some of the most important things I have learned in my life:
1.  Don’t Forget God, and He Won’t Forget You.
Early in elementary school, a nun told us:  “Pray three Hail Mary’s each night and the Mother of God will never forget you.”  I know I still today think that advice strange, but even during the years when I hardly ever went to church, I said those three Hail Mary’s each night, out of habit if nothing else.  And when, in 1987, I was at the absolute lowest point of my life, when I felt the totally illogical, stupid, insane urge to fly halfway around the world, I believe it was at Mary’s urging.  She did not forget me.  And from then on my life was not led by my knowledge of what I thought I should do, but with wisdom, choosing His will, and then I saw how my life made sense and that it was important.  Psychological nonsense, some might say, but I am a scientist and I have seen miracles that no scientist could have explained.  God has been with me; I’ve known it; my life is a life of joy, even in the hard times.  And as evidenced by the many who have told me, my life means something in this world, to other people.  My only prayer these days, is that it means what God intended it to mean, in the great plan of His creation.
2.  Never Stop Learning.  Read.
Education is the seed of wisdom, and there are many sources of education, and ways to go about it.  Certainly before any major upcoming event in your life, you should read the what’s and why’s about it.  For instance, before you might remotely consider getting married, I’d strongly recommend you read Fulton Sheen’s book: Three To Get Married. 
Before I invested a lot of money and time building my backyard deck, I spent a year reading and looking at other people’s decks, especially the ones that seemed to have problems.  And then I designed and built my deck, and now 30 years later it is rock solid and without a creaky board, while neighbors’ decks have collapsed and been torn down --- at great expense.  Before you do any of the big, time-consuming, expensive things: Read!
I enclose as a graduation gift a book on the philosophy of life.  Frank Sheed writes with great clarity, and his philosophy goes far in helping you answer one of the most important questions you can and should ask often in your life:  Why?  Whether it’s the Catechism of the Catholic Church or a textbook on chemical engineering, there are many educational resources to answer the what and how’s of life, but few resources to answer the why’s.  Look for them.  “Why” gets to the truth of the matter.  I know, Graduate, that your college likely taught (as most do) that there are no absolute truths in life; science affirms only theories and truth is thought of as a relative thing --- and your truth and my truth may differ.  All I can say in a short answer is that you need to read more.  Even the latest proven scientific facts of Physics conclude that it is virtually impossible that a supreme being does not exist, despite many who say that God is only a myth or an opinion.  In my life I have found that most people who have an opinion about the truth of a matter usually are not very well read on the real truth of the subject. (I said I never stop learning.  To understand these latest discoveries from Physics on the existence of God, get the DVD of Robert Spitzer’s lectures titled: In The Beginning, the Big Bang.)
Graduate, you will only ever do great things with your life if you understand WHY you should.  Never stop learning. 
3.  Be Better To Be Noticed
You have a degree, Graduate.  So what?  A lot of people have degrees.  Why should I hire you?  Why should I promote you?  Why should I pay you more?  One of the frustrations I had in my business life was with the new hires who did exactly what I told them to do.  When it came time for their annual performance review, they didn’t understand their “average” rating: “Didn’t I do all you asked well?”  They thought they were still in school, where you did what was required and then you advanced.  Business, and life in general, doesn’t work that way.  You need to do more, better, to be noticed --- and respected.
This follows on the advice never to stop learning.  Doctors and lawyers know they must keep up with advances in their fields, but the same holds true in any field of learning.  If you don’t get better, you are falling behind, because if you don’t get better, someone else will, and they’ll get recognized, and respected, and promoted.
One of the best things I ever did was to become proficient in computer programming.  Graduate, if you are not proficient in at least two of the more popular data analyses programming tools, take some classes --- now.  There are many companies which use software to analyze data, but the software is a fixed program and often with it you cannot access data in the way you might want. Worse, you might not even know what data is available to analyze.  In my career I was respected as a business analyst.  Executives respected my opinions because they were based in fact, data I extracted from corporate data bases.  They say “knowledge is power” in business, but I found that knowledge was respect also, not only from others, but I found that I respected myself more when I analyzed things well, which lead to good decisions.  I felt good about my work.
4.  Do What You Must, But Take Any Opportunity to Do What You Love.
My degree was in Physics, but during one of my first job interviews I met a man in a warehousing department who told me about some of the problems of his department, and how they were attempting to solve them.  I found it all new and interesting, and in the end said I’d agree to go work at Ford, not in the engineering area they wanted to hire me in, but only if I could work for that man --- and I did.  I never regretted that decision.  It began a series of very interesting jobs, in which I excelled because the job interested me.  I never used my Physics degree for even one day, and later got my MBA.  In business I went from warehouse management to information technology to finance to marketing, always seeking the more interesting, more challenging state-of-the-art jobs.  As time went on, I was sought out to take jobs and promotions (although I did turn down some jobs and promotions because I thought the work boring or unimportant.)  My job never felt like work, and over the years my salary increased twenty-fold.
5.  There Is More To Life Than Work
Graduate, in this world there are many people who you will meet who think that their happiness is the most important thing --- and some who think that THEY are the most important thing.  But I assure you, into every life a little rain must pour, and some will see downpours.  You will not always be happy, and so don’t put a huge priority on making yourself happy.  Choose to be content, with some happiness, some sadness, some joy and some sorrow --- and some money.  These things are the lessons of life; you learn from the good and the bad.  Yes, these are the things that provide opportunities for wisdom.
As I said earlier, you need to find some satisfaction in your work.  This is the one area of your life where you can have a measure of control.  Choose your work wisely, find contentment there, and then leave it at the office.  There is a life away from work, and in many ways it is more important than work, especially if you have a family.
I said that it is important, Graduate, that we make a difference in this world with the unique life we have.  The most important place you can make a difference is in your family.  Should you someday become married and have children, your family should be your number one priority.  No matter how far you advance at work, a couple of months after you retire from a long career, no one will remember what you did.  But through your family, you may impact generations long after you have died.  You want to make a difference in this world, make a difference in your children’s lives.
6.  Some People Will Never Agree With You.  They Are Not Stupid
I first learned this lesson in high school when I campaigned for John Kennedy for president, and said that you’d have to be stupid to vote for his opponent.  Approximately 49.9999% of the country did, and I suddenly realized that all those people couldn’t be stupid; I was missing something.  I learned that lesson again during the OJ Simpson trial when he “obviously” was guilty, but the jury said otherwise, and so did some very intelligent people I respected.  And I couldn’t understand why they thought that way.
Sometimes, Graduate, two people will look at the same facts and come to radically differing conclusions, when it seems that only one answer is obvious.  You will want to call them stupid, but don’t.  Many people’s educational and life experiences give them a different worldview than yours.  Many times, looking at the same facts you will reach different conclusions, and neither person will ever convince the other that he is wrong.  In some matters you will have to find a way to compromise the truth, so that you can reach agreement on larger issues.  That happened to me many times when I negotiated contracts with Japanese or Korean auto companies; their cultures looked at facts or priorities differently than ours.  So on some matters along the way, we had to agree to disagree, and accept our differing views, accept it without prejudice.  That is not to say that some things are in fact not wrong, or are so important for you that you cannot compromise.  Matters of faith and morality are like that.  It wouldn’t have surprised me too much if one of my ever-practical Japanese partners would have suggested we bulldoze down a few hundred homes to build a factory together, but I would have considered the people living in those homes a bigger priority than the factory, and found another way to build it, even at a higher cost. 
I once dreamt up a parable which explained how we might deal with people who have a different worldview than ours.  I said that the facts we were looking at were “as obvious as the nine fingers on your two hands.”  You can read the full parable on my blog if you have time to waste.  Compromise can be difficult, sometimes, but one of the key steps to compromise is that you are sure of your facts.  One of the gifts I enclosed for you is a book on Islam, which presents facts from Islam’s viewpoint and from Christianity’s viewpoint.  Having read the Koran and spoken with a number of Muslims at Ford, I agree with most of what is said in the book. 
Like the Kennedy election first opened my mind to how people differ in their thinking on political philosophy, I recall the first time my mind was opened on matters of religion.  As part of a diversity initiative at Ford, many dozens of groups were formed by the diverse members of the Ford family of employees, and they were encouraged to learn from one another.  I was curious about Islam, and before ever reading the Koran I asked some of the team members about their religion.  I learned new and interesting things, but then one day I read how non-Muslim religions were outlawed or looked down upon in Muslim countries, and so I asked an engineer at one of our meetings: “What if there were a likeable Muslim candidate who got elected president, and had the support of Congress, how would he treat other religions in this country?”  He answered matter-of-factly: “Well, he’d outlaw them, of course.”  Of course.  Like the Kennedy election results, that was an eye-opener for me.  And I resolved to learn more facts, and I did.
Well Graduate, I’m sure that you are relieved that I am stopping here, but there are so many more lessons I learned in life --- most of which you’ll have to learn yourself, and maybe you’ll quickly forget these and have to learn them also --- or not.  Not everyone does learn these hard lessons, but I offered them to you that you might at least be aware of them, so when the opportunities come for you to learn them --- and they will come --- you might make wise choices, even if all you have is a little knowledge.
Just one final, important point, Graduate:  Never confuse love with something you get.  Jesus came to earth to create a new covenant with man; covenant means family.  If a God could die for His family, surely the family is supremely important – more important than any individual.  Love is a giving of yourself to another, as Jesus did to those He called his family.  Love is something you give, not something you get.
And if you truly become wise, Graduate; if you truly learn how to love; there is one more thing to remember. It is more important than work, or money, or respect or anything in this world.  It is that there is heaven and eternity.  “Memore mori,” -- remember death, is an old Christian motto.  We do not live this life only for this life, but for eternal life.  And there, no matter what you have accomplished in this life, it will seem unimportant.  The only thing you will take with you when you leave this life is how you learned to love.
Call if you ever feel like talking, Graduate; write if you have nothing better to do; and know you are always welcome here at my humble abode --- the spare bedroom at my house is always available.  I look forward to someday, God willing, be a bigger part of your life, but if not, or until then, please take the time to be part of His.  I wish you a joyous and important life, dear Graduate.
With prayers and love,


  1. I think I may have to print this for my sons to read (our oldest just graduated from high school, but he would definitely benefit from your wisdom).

    Your last bit of advice (never confuse love with something you get)is spot on.

  2. Maybe it is ego; maybe it is senility taking hold, but I thought this post --- actually the words of a letter I wrote to my great-nephew --- and the last post I had on the thinking of liberals, were among my best. But although both had quite a few readers, yours if the first comment.

    Oh well, these words matter to at least one person. My great nephew responded in a 5-page letter how much he valued my words, and then he proceeded to give me some of HIS thinking, and some of the words of his professors in college which were affecting his thinking. I hope this is the start of many letter exchanges. I fear for our youth, not for "the world we are leaving them" as so many voice, but rather that they will not step up to make a difference, nor know how.