Graduation advice: 'Stay in touch' means use your online network

The phrase 'stay in touch' has more meaning than ever before. With online networks, graduates can maintain connections with friends and share knowledge long after the classroom collaboration ends.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters
A graduate from New York University wears a hat with the shape of Empire State Building during the commencement ceremony at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York May 21.

Every year, as thousands of commencement ceremonies take place across America, the sheer number of speeches pretty much guarantees that certain themes get repeated over and over.   

Recipients of diplomas are told to dream big, seek challenges, travel the world, and find ways to make society better. These are all terrific ideas. But as a former reporter, my reaction to such generalized advice is an inner voice that says, “It’d be nice to have something a little more specific.”

Based on my own observations during the past few decades (I got my college  degree in the 1970's and my daughter just received her master's in International Development) I do have one suggestion that many graduates may find useful: look for opportunities to connect and collaborate.

Early adulthood can be a seriously complicated period of life. I make it a point never to ask anyone in the 18 to 22 age group, “What are your plans? Do you have a job in mind?”  Sometimes the answer is yes, but in many cases the path into future is fogged over with uncertainty. My advice to travelers along that path is to always keep in mind you aren’t alone. Making friends and staying connected with them during the journey can help avoid unnecessary detours and frustrating dead ends.

To me, the world of wireless communication is astounding. In my student days, most graduates headed off in different directions and the only times we saw each other and got caught up were during holidays or summer breaks. 

I’m not saying that maintaining a network of friends will provide solutions to complex questions like, “Should I take a year off?” or "Am I on the right career track?"  In my experience there are not a lot of “A-ha!” moments in life when everything suddenly falls into place and the way forward is clear. But sharing information, finding out what other people are doing, and how they coped with dilemmas about what path to follow is a useful part of your own decision making process. 

In college I spent a lot of time at the campus radio station and occasionally we shared news stories with other stations. I often thought it would be fun, and useful, to find out more about how other schools ran their broadcasting operations and what kind of programs were airing. But my networking tools  were the telephone and US mail, and long distance calling was expensive. That's my "If only" story — If only I'd had Facebook back then.

I also urge everyone, in the strongest possible terms, to build diversity into your networks. Don’t fall into the habit of only communicating with people who are just like you. We don’t have to become best friends with everybody we meet but creating online cliques isn’t useful. Insights about our personal goals and answers to questions about the future can often be discovered by reaching out across social, cultural, and demographic boundary lines. 

The value of such collaboration was the subject of this year’s Jefferson Lecture by Walter Isaacson. His central point was that science and the humanities can generate great achievements when people draw inspiration from both fields. Isaacson talked about this subject on a recent broadcast of NPR’s “Science Friday” program.

Mr. Isaacson’s next book titled “The Innovators,” due in October, looks at how shared ideas by a group of talented thinkers created the digital revolution.

Right now there is no way of knowing who in the class of 2014 will come up with historic achievements that will change society.  My advice isn’t really new at all, it just has more resonance in this age of effortless communication: Stay in touch, graduates. Don’t be strangers.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.