Graduation Advice for My Son

High school graduation is truly a special occasion considering that your grandparents (my side of the family) never graduated from high school and nearly one hundred years ago, as part of the great migration, your great-grandparents came to America via Ellis Island having little education and here you are graduating from High School. I have written down some thoughts for you to consider as you prepare for the next stage in your life:

Learn how to make your own decisions. Believe in your own resources, and you’ll grow from these experiences. The fact of the matter is most of the answers to the hard decisions you’ll need to make in life reside within and you. You are certainly smart enough to figure out what you need to do but if at all possible, before you make a big decision have the patience to give yourself a little time. I have found that instead of asking “What would my Dad or Mom do?” Ask yourself, “What would my best friend do or What would my sister or brother do?” By asking what your friend or sibling might do helps remove you from the situation just enough so that the answer may become clearer. Of course, if you do seek out an opinion from someone else remember your decision is your decision, and you own it.

Don’t worry about what others think. It is wise to be dispassionate about critical comments that others make about you. It doesn’t matter where you are in life; there will be people who say mean things and for a quick moment consider the source, and ignore it. Let the haters hate and learn to forget them as soon as you can. What I am trying to say is learn to respond instead of reacting. It may seem like a small distinction between responding and reacting, but it isn’t, trust me. Lastly, we all have moments of self-doubt or negative thoughts, but you must learn to dismiss those negative thoughts and stay open to other ideas that will help you move in a positive direction. Nothing good comes from negative self-talk!

Think before you waste your money. You might feel you want to buy an expensive car or maybe a cool new watch. But I’m telling you, you don’t. What you really want is something you can’t buy — respect and admiration, and buying something that is new and expensive will not deliver it. Being who you are and doing what you feel is right when no-one is watching is what matters most. I learned that from my first boss, while working at the Guilford Ben Franklin department store. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy something nice sometimes, of course, you should, but buy something of quality–treat yourself–and don’t think anyone is going to respect you more. They will respect you more by how you act.

Success. Personal success is often earned by hard work, but it sure doesn’t hurt to have a little luck. Timing is everything and being at the right place at the right time as well as being ready to say yes to an idea or to take a chance on something that someone else won’t is equally important. Some people are born into families that believe that education is a true equalizer like us, and some people are born into families that have challenges that don’t allow them the opportunities you have experienced. So, I hope you take some chances, and I sure hope lady luck is on your side more often than not but as much as it stinks to say it, hard work is sometimes the only thing you can control. That is why so many people say do what you love and it doesn’t feel like work and if you do what you like to do success will come your way because you’ll work harder.

Perspective. It is so very important to remember to consider other people’s point of view. When you understand why someone else has a different opinion you will have a skill that many of our leaders today lack.

Try different things–everything in moderation. People’s lives are a reflection of the experiences they’ve had, what they have done, where they have gone, the people they’ve met, the food they have eaten. You know what I mean? Try and step out of your comfort zone and experience different things, go places you haven’t seen, learn new things, but remember everything in moderation. Too much of anything is not healthy. All those times that your mother wouldn’t let you have the entire bag of chips or sleeve of cookies, and you fussed, it wasn’t really about her not wanting you to have a few chips or cookies. Rather she was trying to show you that everything in moderation is fine and too much of any one thing isn’t.  

Love. From my experience make sure you are friends first because if you like being around the person and you have similar interests, the love will follow. However, if the other person doesn’t love you back–it isn’t worth the time and energy to try and make them love you. You will certainly know if you love them, and they love you. Lastly, words have the ability to ruin any relationship so think before you use them.  

Change your mind. Don’t ever think you have to follow a wrong decision to its terrible, inevitable disappointing end. I remember having a conversation with my father about something I was considering to quit, and my dad couldn’t believe I didn’t want to continue. His response was once you commit to something you have to finish it no matter what – you made your made now lay in it. No way is that true in fact it is bad advice! The ability to change your mind and change your direction is a sign of strength, insight and intelligence. However, don’t be the person that starts 1000 things and finishes none.

You can’t control what life throws at you but you can control how you respond so I hope you remain positive.

Of course, feel free to ignore my advice.

Have Fun!


Phillip Potenziano

About Phillip Potenziano

In addition to blogging, Dr. Potenziano works as an Assistant Superintendent, and volunteers on the board of a southern Maine local non-profit. He is happily nestled just north of Portland, with his 3 kids, a wife and lots of projects awaiting his attention. He loves early morning runs, donuts and sometimes coffee. Two lessons he tries to remember are: "Every man is my superior in that I may learn from him" and "At the moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires to assure your success."