10 Pieces of Advice for Postcollege Life

She Matters: This writer wishes someone had told her these things at her commencement.

Members of the graduating class of 2002 at Spelman College (Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)
Members of the graduating class of 2002 at Spelman College (Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

(The Root) — It’s commencement season! Over the weekend, President Obama headed to Morehouse College to deliver what turned out to be a controversial address, while first lady Michelle Obama went to Maryland’s Bowie State University to deliver a widely lauded speech. Scandal actress Kerry Washington spoke at her alma mater, George Washington University, where she shared anecdotes from her undergrad years and told students, “The adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”

Rapper-businessman Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter didn’t speak anywhere but made headlines for gifting a Mercedes truck to recent Notre Dame grad Skylar Diggins. The WNBA guard was one of the first signees to Carter’s Roc Nation sports agency.

I don’t remember what I received as a college graduation gift, from undergrad or grad school. I also don’t remember any of the speeches. When I graduated from New York University, Christiane Amanpour, then the chief international correspondent at CNN, gave the commencement speech. I’d just earned a master’s in journalism and took this as some sign from on high that I had chosen the right profession, even if I didn’t have a job yet, or any real prospects of one.

I sat through both of my graduations scared witless, alternately fearful of tripping in my heels as I walked across the stage to accept my “diploma” (they don’t hand them out onstage; they send them in the mail, a fact I only learned the day of my first graduation) and wondering, “What’s next?” The vague parts I do remember from the speeches were something about embarking on the best years of my life and all the adventure to come. I pictured a mountain and me standing at the bottom of it. Everyone around me was smiling, smitten and giddy. I fought back tears on both days.

In retrospect, that vision of me standing in the valley and envisioning the big, wide mass in front of me was accurate, but the valley before that mountain was deeper than I imagined. Here are 10 things that I wish someone had told me at graduation that would have made the climb to the top — which I still haven’t reached, over a decade later — a little easier.

1. You’re Not Entitled to Anything
Yes, you just earned a degree (or two or three), but so did a few thousand other people, and on the same day, too. You are special, but not because you’re newly degreed. Unless your mom or another relative is a titan of her industry, you will have to hustle and network for a job like everyone else.

2. Get a Job, Any Job
I know you just spent the last however many years earning that degree, and you want to put it to good use. If you land something in your field straight out of school, lucky you. If not, just take a job to earn a check, and get experience and skills that you can put on a résumé to get the job you really want someday (soon.)

3. If You Can, Move Back Home
Independence isn’t overrated. There’s actually nothing like it. However, if you can a) get a job; b) return to your childhood bedroom and deal with your parents (and their rules) for another 12 to 24 months; and c) save up some money, you will have a better quality of life when you move. And if you do it right, you may immediately be able to buy your own home.