This spring, roughly 1.6 million newly minted U.S. college graduates are exiting the campus cocoon and entering a world that is by turns encouraging, indifferent and often unsettling in the fullness of its ambiguity. The college GPS is now switched off, and most graduates have yet to settle on a new model.
It's tough out here in the real world, so let's not sugar-coat it. And let's try, for once, to resist the urge to overwhelm these fledgling adults with truckloads of unhelpful — and unasked-for — advice. Like, for instance, the intended pearls of wisdom posted online recently by a Very Famous Person, which began: "My first piece of advice is to start by defining success for yourself — by being clear about what you want, what you value and what you are about."
Please. As if trying to get two dozen cover letters and resumes out the door in three days while feverishly networking with all your aunts, uncles and second cousins to see if they know someone who knows someone who is hiring isn't enough to think about. What you want? What you value? This is about the last thing the 1.6 million need to think about. And who knows, anyway? I'm 57, and I still have no clue what I'm about.
So my gift to my daughter, who is among those 1.6 million, is to zip my lips, and hope they stay that way. Advice is the last thing she and her friends need as they step off the cliff and begin the long free-fall that we all hope ends in gainful employment. The fact is, we — their parents, grandparents, advisers and so forth — are as clueless as they are. The economic landscape in the United States is shifting drastically in ways we are just beginning to comprehend — and it's our graduating children who are about to bear the brunt of its impact. Who are we to give them any advice at this stage in their journey?
The more I think about it, the more I believe we should all just shut up and let our children soak up the surprises, the triumphs and failures and, yes, even the pain of finding their way in the world. The less said right now, the better. Nothing we can say is going to help, anyway. So let's pass on only this: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And good luck. You'll need it.
Amy Bernstein, Baltimore
The writer, a Mt. Washington resident, is the proud mother of a senior graduating in May from Bates College, in Maine.
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