Advice to graduates: Embrace change, never compromise your integrity

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on June 15, 2015

I had the honor of addressing Drexel University’s Ph.D. graduates and wishing them well on behalf of the university’s board of trustees on June 11. I also addressed the Drexel College of Medicine graduates on May 17, and have done so for a number of years. In addition to delivering a congratulatory message as a representative of the board, I always try to share some advice that may help our graduates as they navigate their careers.

Graduates rarely remember who spoke at their commencement, but they will remember the message if it resonates with them. I always try to deliver a message that is short and to the point, in hopes that they will remember some elements of it.

This year’s remarks are as follows:

Graduates, you have just completed an enormous undertaking. Whether through further training or work, you will assume new roles and responsibilities. As you seek solutions to work or life’s challenges, I urge you to remember what you learned here about the power of teamwork, and the importance of interpersonal skills in accomplishing your goals.

The best advice I can share with you as you pursue your careers is to be open to new opportunities that come your way and embrace change. In fact, I encourage you to be proactive and create your own opportunities. You never know where these might take you.

I can look back to the first day after my commencement, and look at all of the opportunities that came my way or I was able to create, represented by dots along my career pathway. The dots do not line up in a straight line; they zigzag.

I accepted assignments outside of my comfort zone, and sometimes did something new and different. I took risks. Sometimes I failed, but I never let that stop me from moving forward.

You can’t connect your dots looking forward, only looking back. You need to create your own dots, to create the path to your own future. Tomorrow is the first day after your commencement. Always take advantage of opportunities to do something new and different. Take risks, and step out of your comfort zone. And some day you may get a chance to address a commencement and perhaps inspire those graduates to create their own successful journey.

I would like to share with you the following advice, which I think applies in any field. There are nine things that will help you advance in your career:

  • your education, your experience and the expertise you develop in your chosen field
  • the track record of success and the results you achieve as you gain that experience
  • your commitment to yourself and others to always strive for excellence
  • how you differentiate yourself by doing new things, and proactively embrace change and continuous improvement in everything you do
  • your interpersonal skills, and how you lead others
  • your good critical judgment and common sense
  • your ability to expand your personal network, helping others, who someday will help you
  • your integrity
  • your professional and personal reputation

During your career, be sure to develop the first seven and protect the last two. Once you compromise your integrity or lose your reputation, you never earn them back.

My best wishes to you for much success and happiness in the future.

Please pass this article along to students and graduates, or to any individuals who are in the process of building their careers.

Stan Silverman is a writer, speaker and advisor on effective leadership. He is the Leadership Catalyst at Tier 1 Group, a firm of strategists and advisors for preeminent growth. Silverman is vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, a director of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania and former president and CEO of PQ Corp. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com

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