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National Editorial & Columnists

Dear grads: Life happens; never give up

It gets weirder, harder, scarier, but also more satisfying, fun

WASHINGTON – Congratulations, college graduates of 2014. Now it gets weirder, harder and scarier, but also more satisfying and fun.

It is to be hoped you got a few laughs from your celebrity commencement speaker. Who can top Secretary of State John Kerry praising the diversity of Yale University, with 61 countries and many ethnicities represented in the senior class?

“Today you are graduating as the most diverse class in Yale’s long history,” Kerry said. “Or as they call it in the NBA, Donald Sterling’s worst nightmare,” referring to the Los Angeles Clippers’ owner embattled over racist remarks.

Kerry also told the graduates not to be discouraged about the dysfunction in Washington. “It’s hopelessness that says that our best days are behind us. I couldn’t disagree more.”

Then there was Jill Abramson, newly fired as the first female executive editor of The New York Times. She told the 2014 class at Wake Forest University to be resilient, admitting she is scared and feels the “sting of losing” but is also excited about what comes next.

This is the year of diversity, equality and humanity. But, as always, there are the standard pieces of advice we hear year after year that continue to make sense. There’s a reason clichés endure.

So after the obligatory jokes, most commencement speakers invariably dip into the same pool for their advice.

n The hundred thousand or two hundred thousand dollars you, your parents, and lenders forked over for your education may make you a lot of money over your lifetime. But right now, it is not worth much.

Your starter job is going to be tedious, but if you treat it right, it will get you started right. It will teach you to show up on time ready to work. It may teach you to be nice. How great it would be if people acted with kindness to all, even those they hate.

Your first real job should teach you to go above and beyond what is expected and to do your best at every task.

n Get some joy out of every day. This is the universal piece of advice for every graduation audience – you live only once. Always have something to look forward to each day. Each month. Each year.

n The No. 1 piece of advice to new graduates? Never give up. Dream big. Change the world. Fight evil. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t settle. Stay fit. Pay your taxes.

n Appreciate those who help you but own your own success, something far too many are afraid to do. Something to look backward to with pride – be proud of what you have accomplished and what you will accomplish tomorrow,

n Save your money. Hard to do, not just for someone getting a paycheck for the first time with a pile of debt but also for a highly paid CEO. Nonetheless, money gives you options you will need to take chances.

n When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. (Sugarless, of course.) Everybody has something that weighs them down. Don’t let adversity stop you. There’s always a way to get past an obstacle with enough imagination and determination.

n Pay it forward. Don’t live in isolation, don’t forget your civil duties to your country, and don’t forget the many worse off than you are who need your help, however you can give it.

n Never stop learning or setting new goals. It’s important. It’s fun. It will keep you going. And try new things – music, ideas, books, experiences, places, food. (But not, speaking from experience, chocolate-covered insects.)

Year to year, whether from the first lady, the president, comedians, musicians, artists, actors, athletes, writers, and ordinary people who accomplish great things, the advice on how to have a fulfilling, worthwhile life remains the same. But somehow, every spring, it’s good to hear it all again.

In conclusion, life happens. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Note to readers: Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send her email at

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