Make us your home page

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]

Advice from bay area business leaders

Bloomin' Brands CEO Liz Smith

Keep an open mind when assessing opportunities. Don't allow a "master plan" to limit your choices. Some of your best experiences may be the unforeseen ones.

Tribridge CEO

Tony DiBenedetto

Be laser-focused on what you are passionate about and want to pursue. Do research and market yourselves to companies that have those types of positions. Students who have this focus are better prepared and they perform better during the formal interview process.

Tampa/Hillsborough Economic

Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans

There's plenty of opportunity on the horizon, especially here in Tampa Bay. Our region could become super-charged with the job growth we're expecting in the next 24 months. Learn more about the companies that are here. They are actively seeking new employees with solid social and communication skills, on-the-job experience through internships or summer jobs, and a willingness to work hard. Applicants need to be flexible, adaptable and open to new experiences. That's the nature of post-recession business.

Crystal Clear


founder and CEO

Crystal Culbertson

We are always looking for talented graduates who are motivated and want a career opportunity. Try to intern with companies or organizations where your interests or degrees lie. More often than not, if you become an intern part-time it will turn into something full-time and you can begin working your way to the top. It also gives you an inroad to showcase your talent, motivation and willingness to learn.

Manning-Napier vice president Greg Holden

Worry less about the title, and more about the experience you can gain from a new opportunity. Choose the most challenging job offered and surround yourself with the smartest people you can find. Focus most of your energy on things that will transcend any one specific role. Develop deep personal relationships and try to do something for someone before you ask something of them. Build a personal board of advisers of people who won't let you fail. The ability to identify the challenging problems that no one else wants to tackle and develop a solution will help you to stand out.

Celestar CEO, retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and Tampa Chamber chairman

Greg Celestan

Enjoy the journey and don't worry about the destination. You have a long career ahead of you. Spend the first years meeting people and building experience. It may not be exciting, but it could be the most important part of your career. Everyone, regardless of status, can teach you something if you are willing to learn. As a side note, I learned more in my first years in the Army from privates and specialists than from colonels and generals.

Jabil Circuit CEO

Mark Mondello

Two of the most important decisions you will make in life is a career choice and selecting your life partner. Once in the work place, focus on your physical and mental health. Tell the truth. Always. Embrace the global nature of today's business marketplace. It is hyper-competitive when it comes to professional advancement. Work ethic and results do matter. Attitude and hustle are a choice. Smile often. You were born with two receivers and one transmitter: Listen more often than speak, especially early in your career. Keep the "Three P's" top of mind every day: punctual, prepared, present.

Tech Data Corp. CEO

Bob Dutkowsky

Employers are looking for education and experience, coupled with the ability to execute — a philosophy unchanged for generations. Candidates that have demonstrated these characteristics in college and through work experience get hired in good economic times and in challenging economic times.

Bank of America Tampa Bay market president Bill Goede

Remain flexible. The first job you have will not be the job you retire from. Nonetheless, try to excel in your role; it may not seem like it at the time, but the skills you learn will benefit you in your future positions.

USF Medical School Dean Stephen Klasko

If you can't find a "paying job" that excites you, get another internship in your field after you graduate. It's probably the best investment you'll ever make. Be realistic about what your job will be initially. Everyone who is anyone has "made the coffee" or "done the Powerpoint" at some point in their career. Networking is a "forever" skill. Tell everyone you meet you are looking for a job, ask everyone you meet on an informational interview for one more contact, and recognize that accomplished confident people actually like to give career advice.

C1 Bank CEO

Trevor Burgess

Become an expert. Take the time to learn all you can about your desired employer and their industry. Establish deep and fundamental knowledge. Checking out a company's website is not going to cut it. To differentiate yourself, you need to invest real time and energy.

M2Gen CEO Bill Dalton

Don't think of your life as a student and then life after being a student. What I look for is someone who thinks of life as always being a student. Enter the market (profession) in any position you can and then continuously learn, not just on the job experience, but read, explore, network. Continuously explore ways of making a difference and improving the product. To borrow a phrase from (Harvard business professor) Clay Christensen: Be disruptive. Choose an area where you believe the purpose is greater than self. Promotions come to those who desire to have an impact.

Draper Lab vice


Len PolizZotto

There are always opportunities for smart people who know how to work in teams. Focus on opportunities that play to your strengths. Be yourself and don't try to be something you're not. Leverage relationships for the appropriate exposure to these opportunities. Just sending out resumes rarely is effective.

Time Warner vice

president John Bauer

Don't underestimate your capabilities and challenge yourself to look beyond your perceived boundaries. Step outside of your comfort zone.

Haneke Design founder and CEO Jody Haneke

The current job market is forcing everyone to simply up their game. Find something you love doing and then do it better than all the rest. Even now, businesses are opening their pocket books for those that are rock stars, so make sure you are a rock star in your field.

Tampa International Airport CEO

Joe Lopano

Have patience. Prepare to be part of the new economy. Great opportunities are available today in areas like nanotechnology, medical research, stem cell technology and information technology. Get involved in local organizations and work hard to build a robust network.

For the Love of Cities book author

Peter Kageyama

Aim lower. Before you conquer the world, win some small battles, get some experience, make some connections and get some confidence.

Avoiding 'squishers' and other sage advice to the Class of 2013 05/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 5:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Massachusetts firm buys Tampa's Element apartment tower

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Downtown Tampa's Element apartment tower sold this week to a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company that plans to upgrade the skyscraper's amenities and operate it long-term as a rental community.

    The Element apartment high-rise at 808 N Franklin St. in downtown Tampa has been sold to a Northland Investment Corp., a Massachusetts-based real estate investment company. JIM DAMASKE  |  Times
  2. New York town approves Legoland proposal


    GOSHEN, N.Y. — New York is one step closer to a Lego dreamland. Goshen, a small town about fifty miles northwest of the Big Apple, has approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park.

    A small New York town, Goshen approved the site plan for a $500 million Legoland amusement park. Legoland Florida is in Winter Haven. [Times file  photo]
  3. Jordan Park to get $20 million makeover and new senior housing

    Real Estate


    Times Staff Writer

    ST. PETERSBURG —The St. Petersburg Housing Authority, which bought back the troubled Jordan Park public housing complex this year, plans to spend about $20 million to improve the 237-unit property and construct a new three-story building for …

    Jordan Park, the historic public housing complex, is back in the hands of the St. Petersburg Housing Authority. The agency is working to improve the 237-unit complex. But the latest plan to build a new three-story building for seniors will mean 31 families have to find new homes. [LARA CERRI   |   Tampa Bay Times]
  4. Coming soon at two Tampa Bay area hospitals: a cancer treatment that could replace chemo


    A new cancer treatment that could eventually replace chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants — along with their debilitating side effects — soon will be offered at two of Tampa Bay's top-tier hospitals.

    Dr. Frederick Locke at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is a principal investigator for an experimental therapy that retrains white blood cells in the body's immune system to fight cancer cells. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved these so-called "CAR-T" treatments for adults this month. In trials, 82 percent of cases responded well to the treatment, and 44 percent are still in remission at least eight months later, Locke said. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  5. Regulator blasts Wells Fargo for deceptive auto insurance program


    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.

    Wells Fargo engaged in unfair and deceptive practices, failed to properly manage risks and hasn't set aside enough money to pay back the customers it harmed, according to a confidential report by federal regulators.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images, 2017]