TURES COLUMN: Graduates, go beyond the hype to focus on being a leader

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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This is a column for all of those great graduates at LaGrange High School, Troup County High School, Callaway High School, Lafayette Christian Academy, homeschoolers, and especially LaGrange Academy, where my lovely wife teaches, and I’ve seen a great class of grads.

I just read that in the New York Times that the overwhelming amount of advice to graduates is pretty bad, so I hope to provide better advice for all of you in this short column. Take it from a college professor who has been teaching classes in higher education since Clinton was in his first term in office.

First of all, they’ll tell you that you don’t need a college degree. For 1/3rd, they are right.  Georgetown University research shows that a third of all jobs don’t require a college degree.  Well, the other two-thirds of jobs do require a college degree, and only a third of Americans have a college degree, which includes retirees. Do the math. This country needs a ton of college graduates, so hopefully you’ll join the ranks.

In addition, I’ve seen people claim that you can get a six-figure salary as a carpenter, or some similar job. That’s for if you are among those fixing the finer points of the Notre Dame Cathedral. I’ve had folks with welder degrees not working in welding and tell me they were told they could make huge sums doing so. I’m sure some welders make more than I do, but do your research on actual data, not on fanciful tales.

Then they’ll tell you that you’ll change your major 3-5 times, on average. That’s not true for the vast majority of you. I’d say the majority of LaGrange College majors pick one early on, stick with it, love it, and work in that field. Colleagues at other places tell a similar story. The data is biased by those who switch their major seven or more times. If you know what you want, go for it. Don’t let people talk you into a major that you don’t want, because of such skewed stories.

Your college can be a “found family,” too. Chances are, if you’re pretty open-minded, you’ll make a lot of lifelong friends. Find a college and major with professors who have a reputation for going the extra mile to help you with your career. They definitely do exist.

Don’t think colleges are some big culture war zone. I’m sure such debates exist, but the vast majority avoid this toxic theater put on by extremes. When there was a similar angsty moment at Auburn with a controversial speaker, students there told me “He brought in all his supporters from Texas, while protesters brought in their people from Atlanta. We didn’t know any of them, but just steered clear and went on with our classes and activities.” Don’t let the 24-hour news channels mislead you about what college life is really like. Most folks are pretty open-minded. I have liberal and conservative and moderate students, who generally get along, and am glad for it.

The final item I read in the New York Times story was to tell students not to follow their passion.  That’s wrong too. You should follow your passion! But they never tell you what your passion should be. For me, and my advice, I tell students to make their passion about helping others, which is made easier by teaching at a Christian college, so it’s part of our mission. I encourage students to be leaders, but taking care of those in their charge, not “taking charge.” And as a professor, Graduation Day is second only to Christmas, when I see those who really got the life lessons, ready to provide that leadership and service that our country desperate needs.  Congratulations Class of 2023. I hope to see you leading the charge in the coming years.