Class of 2014: Cheers and Ten Essential Facts of Life

Ten essential points not appearing on any final exam and yet entirely necessary

Posted May 09, 2014

Hooray! You're graduating. That's good. Here are 10 things you need to know:

1.     Bring re-sealable plastic bags to occasions where you suspect food will be served. Wait until the rest of the flock has circled at least three times before calmly filling the bags with not-too-perishable or shmooshy treats. Cookies are good; shrimp get old fast; pudding is never a good idea. You are not allowed to steal toilet paper from public places, however. Get into the habit of purchasing your own toilet tissue. It is a genuine right of passage.

2.     Write down every idea you have, even if you suspect it might never be useful. Most won't be, but some? Some will be more valuable than you might dream.

3.     Contact people whose work you admire. Do this not to impress them, but instead to let them know them why you find their work important. Why not tell someone who you're reading at the momentsomeone whose work engages you on a serious levelthat you're enjoying (or at least provoked by) their research and perspective? It can't hurt, since the worst that can happen is a brush-off; often writers, journalists, and scholars, for example, are relieved to hear that they aren't playing to an empty house. Don't send them a whole treatise, however. A simple and generous note is enough.

4.     Keep in touch with smart people and funny people. You'll need them in your life no matter what theyor youend up doing. Smart and funny people make even the worst day better. They are the best reward for survival.

5.     Keep good notes. Keep track of the titles, authors, and dates of those books, articles, movies (or "films" if you're that sort), songs, poems, art pieces, reviewsof anything that engages youbecause otherwise you'll spend ridiculous amounts of time trying to track them down.

6.     Remember that nobody cares how long it took you to complete your degree or to finish any other piece of work; they only care that the work you do now meets professional standards. Most people will avoid like the chicken pox anybody who starts a letter of introduction, a query letter, a conversation, or an email with the phrase "I have had a hard time throughout the past (fill in the blank) years, but I am now ready to get my life in order. I know you are busy but I have written a six-page description of my life and why you should hire me and I am including it and hoping that you'll let me know what you think. It only really gets going after page (fill in the blank) so you'll need to get past that point to get its true message."

7.     You do not get extra points for effort. "I had two children and gout and then I went through a tough time when my earlobe swelled for three months" will not make somebody respect you more.

8.     Don't send anything to a new work colleagueor even an acquaintancethat you wouldn't want somebody else to see. This includes witty commentaries on the last office meeting, scathing reviews of an administrator's new hair cut, or hideous photographs of your ex. You're the one who'll end up looking bad.

9.     It will serve you well to distinguish between your rivals and your enemies. These are two different sets of individuals. Your rival might not be your enemy, and many of your enemies are not your rivals.

10.    Do  yourself a BIG favor: learn to introduce yourself with a certain amount of grace and say "hello." Say "hello" a lot and remind people who you arethey might remember your face but not your name. Don't be so cynical that you sabotage yourself. Laugh out loud, and not only at other people; enjoy yourself, and not only at the expense of others. It's harder to be smart and generous than it is to be smart and sarcastic. Don't be too hip to smile.

Congratulations. Remember to bring the bags.

(updated 2014)