A Letter To Our Daughter Upon Graduation

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Dear Abbie:

On Saturday morning, you will walk across the stage at the Belcher Center to receive a bachelor’s of science degree from LeTourneau University. Your mom and I couldn’t be prouder of you. You completed your degree and are graduating with high honors from a university with rigorous standards — with a triple major in English, psychology and theology. It’s a big step, and it inevitably leads to you wondering what comes next. So, here’s some unsolicited advice from your dad.

  • First off, you received a fine education within a wide variety of disciplines. That provides a strong foundation from which to either pursue a career or further your education. Like me, who earned a bachelor’s with majors in English, history, and philosophy, it doesn’t necessarily leave you “qualified” for a job in the real world. Students who major in engineering, aviation, accounting, or get a teaching certificate already know in what direction they’re heading. I didn’t really know, nearly went to law school, and just fell into a highly rewarding career in journalism.

You would be surprised how many people end up changing careers, even after getting a degree. Many folks don’t really know if they have chosen the right path until they do the job. For example, I have friends who graduated from law school and then realized practicing law was not for them. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind about what path you have chosen and later trying something else.

  • Whatever you end up doing, be reconciled to starting at the low rung of the ladder. Only the lucky few leave college and land six-figure income jobs. Those of us who pursued a liberal arts education, as you and I did, must work our way up in whatever career we choose. I worked for newspapers for more than 20 years before I started making decent money. But it ended up paying quite well, and in those first 20 years I had a blast working as a photographer, writer, and editor.

See, Abbie, that’s the most important aspect of finding your career niche. You will be far happier working at a job you love for less money than working at one you hate for more money. If you can find a job that pays well — and that you love — all the better. But chances are strong it will take time to earn the salary you would like to make.

I have all the confidence in the world that you will succeed at whatever you next choose to do. You have so many talents — writing, technology, creativity, helping your oldish parents navigate our phones and around big cities — that I have no doubt you will find your way in this crazy old world. Keep true to your principles, hold to your faith, and remember that enduring failure is part of learning how to succeed. (Dang, that sounded like part of a commencement speech. Sorry.)

  • Remember that learning is a lifelong adventure. When one takes delight in learning new things, whatever they are, the world continually opens up. Having an innate curiosity about the world, as you do, is a gift. That gift will constantly open new doors for you.
  • Always keep in mind that you have been blessed with great advantages throughout your life, thanks especially to your mom’s devotion and dedication to your growth and success, long before I came into the picture, when you were 10. When something goes awry — a bad job interview, being turned down for a promotion, whatever — please remember that you start this voyage into adulthood in a far better place than the vast majority of folks your age. We are blessed in so many ways compared to most people. Try to always keep that in mind, regardless of the curveballs thrown your way.
  • Finally, just have fun, Abbie. I don’t mean partying fun, or vacation fun, though those are fine, too. But enjoy life, embrace the challenges of trying to figure out your path forward, be grateful for both the successes and what you learn from the setbacks.

Warren Zevon is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. He lived hard, was kind of a jerk, and died too young from cancer at 56. After his death, his fellow singer/songwriters wrote a tribute album and titled it “Enjoy Every Sandwich.” That was Zevon’s response to a question from David Letterman on his farewell talk-show tour, months away from dying in 2004. It’s an apt approach to life, I think.

Go enjoy every sandwich in this big old world. And congratulations again on getting that degree.

Love, Dad (more commonly known as Mistah Bowdahs)

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