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Message to class of 2018 (and anyone else reading this)

Graduation is here for our high school seniors. I want to take a moment to offer unsolicited advice to the young adults starting off on their next steps (and their loved ones who will hopefully cut this out of the paper or share it on Facebook for them to read).  

First, some quick advice on life. It’s short and goes by faster than you can imagine.  

Make the most out of every moment. Every bit of time that passes is time you won’t get back. As soon as you read these words, they will be in the past. Whether your next step is starting a career, military service, community college, or university, make the most out of your time to ensure your own future happiness — emotional, spiritual, and financial.  

But, don’t ever think it is too late to change course if you aren’t happy.  

Get a job right after graduation if you want. It may just be the start of your career. If you decide you want something else, though, seek extra training at a community college or a four-year institution. Or go to college now if that fits. But, don’t hesitate to pivot if you discover college isn’t for you. Avoid the debt if another path makes you happy.  

And, don’t be afraid to pursue the challenges that make life worth living. You can actually enjoy multiple careers over the course of your life.  

Join the military or a service corps, become a teacher, or find another way to do something for more than just you. You will likely love it and may even start a lifelong career helping society. Or, you will be grateful for the rest of your life for having worked as part of something bigger than just yourself.  

Second, some quick advice for your career. Want to be successful? Follow these easy steps.

Work hard, be kind, and save your money.  

Working hard is self-explanatory. Everyone dreams of winning the lottery, but odds are that your American Dream, like almost everyone else’s, will take hard work to reach.  

Being kind will help you find happiness in work and in your relationships. Some people can be successful through cut-throat tactics, but you will more likely find success and be happier through collaboration. For example, while being an elected leader entails an unfortunate level of strife and contention, the best parts of my job result from working with other people to effect positive change. And, those other people very much include folks who disagree with me but engage in productive conversations, working together to find solutions or try new ideas to see what bears fruit.  

Lastly, start setting aside your money as soon as possible. The sooner you save, the sooner your money starts making you more money. Thanks to compound interest, starting to save early is as important as how much you save. Even if it seems like just a little bit each month, money that is saved works for you for the rest of your life.

Your strides across a stage may not feel like big ones, but they represent your major steps into the next chapters of your life. Congratulations on finishing this chapter — now make the most out of life. You only get one, and right now, it is yours for the taking.

Editor’s note: This perspective was originally published by The Wilson Times. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is the NC Superintendent of Public Instruction. He was an at-large member of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, and prior to moving to Winston-Salem, he taught at West Charlotte High School in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system.