Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

Avoiding 'squishers' and other sage advice to the Class of 2013

It's an uncertain time to be a new college graduate. They need all the genuine job advice they can get.

Here's a start, culled from dozens of interviews with local leaders and commencement speeches from across the country:

Don't put your desire to change the world on hold. Start now.

Everyone, regardless of status, can teach you something.

Listen more. Talk less. And smile often.

And my personal favorite:

Life is too short to hang out with squishers.

Traditionally, it's the task of commencement speakers at graduations to help lift young spirits, embolden the timid and remind young grads that there's remarkable opportunity in a changing world for those willing to find it.

Last May, when economic times felt even less sure, commencement speakers delivered some tough love and hinted of diminished expectations.

This year's speakers, like the economy, are more bullish. USF president Judy Genshaft's remarks celebrated the academic growth of USF and accomplishments of many of its 6,000 graduates going on to elite opportunities.

At Eckerd College's commencement, environmental activist Bill McKibben recalled a moment in Washington a year ago when climate demonstrators tried to gather enough people to circle the White House.

"We didn't know when we asked people to come whether people really would," he said. "And to watch bus after bus roll up from Eckerd College from a long, long bus ride away — to know that this college had sent, per capita, more students off to that demonstration, and many other demonstrations, than any college in this country — was to understand that this is a key place for the future, and you are key players for the future."

Eckerd's commencement also featured Academy Award-winning animator John Lasseter (parent of a 2013 grad), chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios and principal creative adviser of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Lasseter related how he was fired by Disney and what came of it.

"I got squished at Disney by someone who told me to keep my mouth shut and do what I was told, and at that moment I told myself that if I was ever in charge, I would never ever say to anyone what that person just said to me. Life is too short to hang out with squishers like that," he told an Eckerd crowd.

Years later, Disney offered to rehire Lasseter at four times what he was paid at Pixar. Lasseter said no, even though Pixar at the time was small and barely afloat. He stayed for the groundbreaking work under way.

"But just as importantly, I did it because Pixar was a place that enabled people, that trusted people, that hired the best people in the world, let them do what they were great at and always challenged them to be better." Pixar soon finished the first computer animated feature film in history: Toy Story.

Have dreams, Lasseter said, but follow your passion. "Because when your dreams get shattered and you trust your passion, guess what? You get a lot more dreams, and they will come true," he said.

That's good advice for graduates of any era.

In the broader world, the online business networking service LinkedIn recently asked 24 leaders what advice they would share with this spring's crop of graduates. Their diverse advice can be boiled down to this: Get very involved. Embrace the tumult of increasing world change. Then get ready for the next round.

Three gems stood out:

1 Wendy Kopp, founder for Teach For America, at Boston University

"The final myth about changing the world is that it's better to wait until you have more experience. The world needs you before you stop asking naive questions, and while you have the time to understand the true nature of the complex problems we face and take them on. Don't put your desire to change the world on hold. Start now."

2 Jim Kim, president of The World Bank, in remarks at Northeastern University

"I'm sure many of you are more than a little concerned about what the future will bring. I just want to say to you today that not only is your future uncertain, but the overwhelming likelihood is that it's far more uncertain than you think."

3 Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, in remarks at Smith College

"What I urge you to do is not just take your place at the top of the world, but to change the world … It's time for a third metric, beyond money and power — one founded on well-being, wisdom, our ability to wonder and to give back. Money and power by themselves are a two-legged stool. You can balance on them for a while, but eventually you're going to topple over. And more and more people, very successful people, are toppling over."

Nowhere is it written that a college diploma also comes with a certificate of passion, some document that states you know for sure what you love most of all and will pursue it in a career. Many of my friends in college graduated without a defined path. They mostly felt lucky to have missed the Vietnam War. Many of the new USF graduates I know are still hunting for their mission in life.

So consider this column and the accompanying advice box from local business leaders a sampler. Look over the advice. Reject the platitudes. Savor what makes sense or seems fresh.

Just remember all those comments about change, and more change after that. So buckle up.

Good luck, Class of 2013. And dream big.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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