As the last weeks of the semester are upon us, I have a message to the graduating class.
First, thank you for being so welcoming to myself and the other Posse veterans. I have gotten to know quite a few of you and you have all been amazing in helping us integrate onto campus. That has not gone unnoticed and I will be attending a panel during your graduating week.
Many – if not all- seniors have already worked internships and know a little about what life is like on “the other side.” But here are a few things that I have learned that I would like to share with you.
Don’t take the highest paying job just because it is the highest paying. Happiness has no price, and I quickly learned I would rather take a lower paying job that I loved rather than a higher paying job that was going to torment me week after week. Burnout will happen quickly.
The lessons I’ve learned talking to professors, whether in person or in email, are about as valuable as the education here itself. Persuasive writing is a critical skill, no matter what field you are going into.
Group projects in the “real world” have benefits. For a time, I was frequently assigned the equivalent of a Wesleyan “final project,” that had strict deadlines. Group projects are not as difficult, there is much more accountability, and working with the best of the best on a project is very rewarding. They are also a great way to learn about others and their different careers! The good news is, there usually was no (or very little) “homework.”
My reputation was one of the most valuable things I had. Very simply, on the first day in the door of your new place of employment, a reputation is started and built upon. A great reputation will open doors, such as avenues for advancement, ability to work on the best and most interesting projects, and others gravitating toward you. Becoming an invaluable resource for your bosses means raises, benefits, and other perks.
For those of you who are going to jobs, for the first time, you will have a lot of income. When I joined the Army I couldn’t believe my bank account after a few months; even though it wasn’t an insane amount of money, it was a lot more than I was used to. Make sure to save some, establish a rainy day fund, and pay off credit cards immediately. Make sure to buy a very comfortable mattress! It will be your best piece of furniture. Try to build up a safe liquid investment with four to six months of living expenses; this will protect you in case you get sick or hurt and cannot work, or allow you to transition between two jobs. It also means you will never feel trapped in a job you don’t want, but have to keep, because you need the income.
Speaking of saving, start planning for retirement now! Any little bit you can squirrel away in a tax-free retirement investment will grow and grow and grow from interest and capital gains. It is possible that Social Security will fold by the time you are 65.
Live within your means! One of the biggest mistakes I saw a lot of soldiers make was spend more than they could afford—financial stress is more avoidable with a good plan and decision making. Have a budget, and stick to it. A good rule of thumb is to live in a place that costs less than two weeks’ salary per month. A used car with less than 50,000 miles is almost as good as new but will cost a lot less than a new car. I cannot overemphasize this: financial stress is one of the leading causes of unhappiness and ending relationships.
Continue to participate in extracurriculars! One of my biggest mistakes in the Army was taking a break from many of my interests, and my stress levels increased dramatically. On my base in Baghdad there was a golf driving range, and even though I was working 12 hour days, six to seven days a week, I would make sure to spend at least an hour hitting some shots a few times a week. That hour allowed me to decompress and de-stress.
As you rise up the ranks, remember the social issues you learned here at Wesleyan. Try to give your workers pay they deserve, more vacation days, a generous maternity leave, and so on.
A majority of Wesleyan students care about classes and social, political, and economic issues, and have a lot of pride in their work, which makes for a rare yet impressive community. One of the more difficult realities I had to learn is that a many of the people I worked with did not care about their jobs and were just there to do the bare minimum and earn a paycheck. Interacting with these individuals will be frustrating, but insanely rewarding if you are able to reach them and motivate them. I cannot tell you how proud of my soldiers I was when they got promoted, and I will never forget that feeling.
Let’s face it, Wesleyan is a very liberal bubble. As you probably already know, where you end up next isn’t likely to be one, and that is okay. I’ve grown politically in my first year at this University because of how much my beliefs have been challenged.
Once again, thank you very much, seniors! I wish you the best of luck wherever life takes you next, and I hope you enjoy it!
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.