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by Alexa Friedman | May 19, 2015


Beyond some laughs and too much sun, I don’t remember much about my college graduation. That's not to say there weren't compelling words of wisdom to send us into the world, but as I'm sure many of us have, I often hear the same advice over and over. As a soon-to-be Master of Higher Education, I interact with students on a daily basis and I often catch myself giving them the exact same advice that I had heard so many times it started to lose meaning. So how should we apply these Graduation Advice Classics to our lives? Read on for the ways that these timeless pieces of advice had a real impact on my life, whether I knew it at the time or not:

1. “Find your passion" 
This sounds like great advice and I absolutely agree that you should do something you love. But unfortunately, as "passion" is not on sale at Target and doesn't come in bulk at Cosco, it takes time and effort to find this thing. And then it changes. Case in point: When I was 12, I wanted to be a teacher. By 16 I was convinced I’d be a comedy writer. At 18 I headed off to UCLA and was set on working in marketing and PR. By the time I graduated I had worked in sales, marketing, insurance, risk management, telecommunications, and healthcare. My resume was starting to look like I was throwing professional darts at the job prospect dart board. Right now my passion lies in diversity and higher education, and that can take me in a multitude of directions from here. So know that passions are fluid and can change, what's important is being open to the many ways of finding and changing your life passions and goals.

2. "Try new things" and "Do what scares you" 
As the first child and an admittedly timid one at that, going to college 45 minutes from home (or 3 hours with traffic -- L.A. traffic is not kidding around) was huge. So when I took off to study abroad at a British university for my entire junior year, it was monumental. In the interest of honesty, my transition to this full immersion in a foreign country was not seamless. I'm sure if you look at my browser history you'll find middle-of-the-night searches for last-minute flights from London to California. But by the end of the year I was more independent, learned how to thrive even when I was uncomfortable, and had friends across the globe. It was this exposure to different ways of thinking, interaction with an incredibly diverse group of people, and learning to find my way in an unfamiliar place that led me back to studying how higher education provides experiences that make us not only bright students, but also better and more interesting people.

3. "You'll learn more outside the classroom" 

Cut to two years after I graduated, and I was poised to make another enormous life decision: grad school. Comparing programs across the country, I finally decided to get my Master's in Higher Education at NYU. A far cry from the laid-back beaches of my Southern California hometown, I moved to New York without a place to live. If you ever need a seriously character-building lesson, try to find an apartment in New York City. And then live there. Through my academics at NYU I have learned more from my peers than from textbooks and I developed a resilience and positive outlook I never thought possible just by living in one of the best and certainly most challenging cities in the world. 

4. The ones I didn’t hear enough: “Take time to reflect" and "Let yourself be wrong" 

My first job out of college was in marketing, and halfway through that first summer I came to the realization that I was going to lose it if I had to spend one more minute deciding between different shades of blue for an ad. I might still end up somewhere different than I think I’m headed, but I got here by taking the time to reflect on what I loved (travel, learning, diverse teams, scones) and what I hated (agonizing over punctuation, mushrooms). When we take time to reflect and admit that sometimes we're wrong, this opens us up to change, lets us learn from our successes and mistakes, and allows for a more winding path to where we end up (and then keep going from there).

My words of advice may sound remarkably similar to everything you've heard before. But I suggest you take the time to reflect on what you're getting out of these experiences: Keep learning from everyone around you. Challenge yourself with things that scare you. Move to a new city. Travel the world. Do something your friends aren't. Ask questions. Live in the tiny apartment above the karaoke bar. Be wrong. And go on from there.

Alexa Friedman recently graduated from NYU with a Master's in Higher Education. She works with undergraduate students, advising them on their academic and career paths throughout their college careers. This article also appears on LinkedIn.