(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.
4. Ask for Help
Face it, you don't know it all. You're not supposed to. If you don't know, ask. If you're unsure, ask. You'll make plenty of mistakes that are unavoidable. Avoid the ones you don't have to make.
5. Save Your Money
If you were broke in college like nearly all college students, you'll want to go and buy all the shiny new things you've wanted for the last four (or six?) years that you couldn't have. You can have some of them, not all. Save at least 10 percent of whatever you make for a rainy day. I know that sounds like a cliche. It's oft-repeated because it's true.
6. Don't Look for Just a Black Mentor
You are not entitled to mentorship by the black higher-ups at your jobs. Yes, they are there, and someone helped them along the way. And yes, it would great if they gave back. Everyone won't. Your job is to find someone higher up on the chain of command to impart their wisdom to you. It doesn't matter what color they are or what gender — only that they are willing to help you.
7. Use Your Age to Your Advantage
You will work jobs with colleagues and superiors who are old enough to be your mother. They have years of experience that you don't possess. And that's fine. You have fresh ideas, ingenuity and an online savvy that can't be taught just by virtue of being new and young. Use them to your advantage.
8. Make Time for Love
There's nothing wrong with working hard to build a nest egg or buy whatever it is you worked to afford. But burying your head in your laptop won't land you a lover, or significant other. Consciously make the decision to go out with friends, meet new people and flirt shamelessly with people you find attractive and/or interesting.
9. It's a Small, Small World
There are three degrees of separation between all college-educated black folk. Try your best not to burn bridges unnecessarily, and don't tell all your business. Word travels fast.
10. Have Fun
Constantly worrying about the direction of your life doesn't actually solve any problems; it just gives the illusion that you're doing something about your worries. (However, your concern is a sign that you'll probably be OK.) Focus on solving the problem — not just worrying about it — and do something (cheap) that will make you happy so you'll feel better.