My nephew Carson is graduating June 3.
Yesterday, he was building Lego castles and trading Pokémon cards. OK, maybe it wasn't yesterday.
I'm sure that's how the families of all the seniors graduating this spring feel.
He and the rest of the class of 2013 will take a short walk across a stage: behind
them, childhood; before them, college, careers, families.
When Carson was born, I flew here from my home in Detroit to meet him. When he entered kindergarten, I lived in Minneapolis. I had moved back to Jacksonville by the time he was auditioning for a spot in LaVilla School of the Arts' vocal program. I saw him perform in several choral performances since then for LaVilla and then Douglas Anderson School of the Arts. This summer, he'll start classes at the University of North Florida.
I can't remember any of the speeches from my high school graduation, and I didn't participate in a ceremony for my college graduation — I had already moved out of state to my first job.
I don't know who will speak at Carson's graduation or what kind of advice they'll give, but here are a few things I'd like to share with him and his classmates. I hope they remember it better than I can recall whatever advice I was given at graduation.
Leave love for later: Don't be in a rush to find love and settle down. Your life should remain as simple as possible for as long as possible to allow you to figure out who you are and what you love. You can still have relationships; just don't expect each one to be "the one." Once you are tied to another person — a spouse, a child — your choices narrow. There will be plenty of time for those things.
No decision is final: You'll feel the pressure to pick a major, enroll in a trade program, or find a job as if it's a lifelong choice. No decision, except having children or breaking the law, must last forever. You'll have time to try many things throughout your life — and you should.
Work smarter, not harder: Those who have worked with me are probably sick of hearing this, but it's become my motto. Every job I've had has required me to produce more with fewer resources, so I've had to learn how to squeeze the most out of the time I have. We have tools to make our jobs easier; we should use them. Save your energy and brainpower for the tasks that really need it.
Work hard, play harder: Never shy away from hard work. Your willingness to put in the effort will distinguish you. But take it from a recovering workaholic: Don't let your life be defined by work. You need outside activities and friends to recharge.
Be tech savvy but not tech-addicted: Technology will be incorporated into every job and almost every facet of life; you should be comfortable learning and adapting to new developments. You don't want to be stuck at the 2013 level. But don't bury your head in your smartphone. Take out the earbuds, turn off the device, and pay attention to what's happening around you.
When you drive, just drive: Don't text, don't call, don't eat, don't apply makeup — and don't drink or do drugs. Use your car for its intended purpose and you'll get a lot farther in life.
Have goals but redefine them: Objectives give your efforts focus. But as you learn more about your goals, don't be afraid to rethink them. It might be a small adjustment, such as moving from corporate to criminal law, or a wholesale change like dropping law for zoology.
Don't take on too much debt: Work to help pay for college as you go. It might take you a little longer to finish, but it's worth graduating without a giant bill that will take you years to pay off. That financial pressure might also force you to take jobs simply for the paycheck instead of following your chosen career. Without a big debt hanging over your head, you'll have the wiggle room to try on jobs like relationships until you find one that's the right fit.
Care about something: What makes you happy? What pisses you off? Find a way to invest in the community and the issues that move you. How do you find out what those things are? Read the local paper, magazines and news websites. Don't rely completely on Facebook and Twitter. If you're reading Folio Weekly, that's a good start.
Take care of yourself: Your body can withstand a lot of abuse at your age, but it will catch up with you. Bad habits are much harder to break the longer you practice them, and the effects are harder to reverse. Eat well, exercise regularly, don't smoke, don't drink excessively — your body and mind will thank you.
Go places, but come back: Travel if you can, even if it's just a short road trip. Go to school or live in another city or state. It will give you perspective and ideas you can use to improve Northeast Florida when you return. You will return, won't you?