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Crowdsourced Advice from UT Alumni: Four Lessons from Your Future

Published: December 18, 2017
“When graduation is tomorrow and my roommate still needed pictures, we do a quick photo shoot. Most people throw their cap, but my roommate threw her gown.” Instagram photo by @breannebrownphotography
“When graduation is tomorrow and my roommate still needed pictures, we do a quick photo shoot. Most people throw their cap, but my roommate threw her gown.” Instagram photo by @breannebrownphotography

Commencement Photos from Social Media

To the crowd of more than 500 graduates at UT’s 145th commencement on Dec. 16, speaker Gregg Bachman, professor of communication, shared “Four Lessons From Your Future.”

Bachman was the recipient of the 2016-2017 Louise Loy Hunter Award, which is given annually by its previous recipients to a UT professor for excellence in teaching and cumulative contributions in service and scholarship. He crowdsourced ideas on commencement advice from more than 60 alumni he has stayed in touch with since working at the University more than 26 years, and came up with four themes in their responses: responsibility, patience, balance and to be the light.

“Be responsible and do your homework — oh, yes, homework doesn’t end with graduation; if anything it just gets more challenging, because you’re going to have to figure out your own assignments,” said Bachman, urging them to be humble when they don’t know the way.

“No one will think less of you for doing so, especially if you actually listen to the answer. Yes, several alums stressed listening,” Bachman said. “And you’ll be surprised to learn that those to whom you do listen will be not only be impressed but flattered. And then John in Washington reminds you to ‘always express your thanks and gratitude to those who have helped you in any way, shape or form.’”

Bachman also shared the practical advice of something that most new graduates will feel is a lifetime away: saving for retirement. But it’s necessary to be responsible for one’s self and one’s future.

“What? Here you are graduating, and I’m talking about retirement? Time flies by. It happens with alarming speed; look how quickly your years at UT went by,” he said. “So even if it’s just a few dollars every week, forge the habit of saving for your future self. Start with your first paycheck; do it with every paycheck. Your future self will thank you. Profusely.”

Lesson number three was about finding a work-life balance.

“Find the passions that sustain you outside of the work environment, because if a job goes away through downsizing, market adjustments, reorganization, relocation or even retirement, you will still have a sense of purpose, a grasp on who you are, a reason to keep moving forward,” Bachman said. “Your job, your career can’t and should never define you; only you can define you. The danger in making your job the one defining element of who you are is that if you lose a job, you lose yourself. So find, maintain and sustain that balance. That’s lesson number three.”

Lesson four — to be the light — reflects on the ability of all to choose to do good.

“To say we live in tumultuous times is underselling what is happening both here and abroad. Just this semester we’ve suffered through all sorts of storms, both natural and man-made, hurricanes and hate, earthquakes, fires and tsunamis created by tweets,” Bachman said. “Modern communications have shrunk the world, while, at the same time, ironically insulated us from the thoughts and experiences of others … Move away from the familiar. Actively seek out people who have differing perspectives. Not to change them, but to listen, to consider, even to understand. Be civil in your discourse. Be examples through your actions.”

Haley Ward ’17, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in writing, delivered the challenge to the graduating class. She spoke of a perspective learned in one of her classes sophomore year, that of history not being made in totality, but rather in moments along the way.

“There are days when I want to fast forward, maybe to a time when I’m financially and emotionally stable, and I don’t have to decide between going to bed or getting that exam turned in by midnight,” Ward said.

“But I stop myself, especially on days like today when everything was nothing like I planned it to be, but everything I needed: the days spent in Plant Park reading books and getting too much sun on our shoulders and noses; the nights we stayed up late because of work or that paper we forgot about or just because the conversation never ended; the times we laughed with the people who laughed at our dreams and hoped that one day they will find theirs, too; the love we fell in and out of and then back in; the things we stressed over that don’t matter, the things we stumbled upon that do. These are our moments,” Ward said. “I hope you don’t forget the moments like this, connect them together like stars into constellations that tell your story, that make your history.”

Homepage photo courtesy of @thenomadicdreamers. See more on UT's Storify.

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