Asking for It: Sage Advice for College Grads & Communicators Advancing to Next Level

It’s the month of commencement speeches, with high school and college graduates treated to time-tested advice from their elders and applying what is retainable and relatable to their own lives (after the parties and summer jobs).

Wouldn’t it be fun if every year we had a Moving Up Ceremony of sorts for our profession? We’d all gather for a few hours to hear from the valedictorian of our industry who will remind of us how tough it’s been but why we should stick with it. Then we’re treated to a speaker “from the outside” who can impart entertaining but useful advice as we budget for next year, launch new campaigns and take on new responsibilities? As you ponder who those keynotes might be (You? Your boss? Ashton Kutcher?), you’d find that just reading or listening to the speeches being given at college graduations nationwide offer great advice and tips for us, “the elders”.

Some advice is surely evergreen — and it’s validating to be reminded of it as we “refresh” our minds, take much-needed vacations, and rethink our communications plans and work/life issues for the rest of the year and beyond.

So, does this advice from college graduation speakers this year, aggregated from the New York Times this past weekend (and with a little editorializing by yours truly), sound familiar?:

“You’ve got to be all in…No more than a surgeon can operate while tweeting canyou reach your potential with one ear in, one ear out.” (Read: stay focused, don’t let multi-tasking take over your life). — Samatha Power of the National Security Council

“Don’t be afraid of new ideas; be afraid of old ones.” (Read: be creative, fear complacency.) – Daniel F Akerson, CEO, General Motors

“Honest failure is a badge of experience….Being afraid to fail means you’ll be afraid to try.” (Read: fail fast and move on) – Steve Blank, technology entrepreneur

“Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision.” (Don’t rush to make decisions about your life and career) – Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook

Joseph Plumeri, CEO of Willis Group Holdings, told the graduates of the College of William & Mary a story about the renaming of the Sears Tower in Chicago to the Willis Tower. Despite resistance and people saying the name can’t be touched despite Sears having vacated the building back in 1993, Plumeri persisted. When Brian Williams asked him during an interview how he got the building owners to change the name, he told Williams: “I asked.”

Sometimes, you just have to ask.

— Diane Schwartz

On Twitter: @dianeschwartz



  • Cindy Goodman McGee

    Those are great words of advice. I will forward on the link to those in my life who are going through change. That would be everyone with a heartbeat.
    One lesson I could have benefited from;
    “Don’t let good suffer at the hands of great”
    Perfectionism can be the death of any project. ( are you looking for typos now? ) Dishes will be left in the sink. Photos may lounge on your camera untouched. Your shoes may not match your suit. As long the suit has no wardrobe malfunction. And you & the suit the are pursuing the life you dream of then “perfect” be damned!

    This is my favorite one on your list: 
    “Honest failure is a badge of experience….Being afraid to fail means you’ll be afraid to try.” (Read: fail fast and move on) – Steve Blank, technology entrepreneur

    Thanks for the great article. It was perfect. (in a healthy way)