LinkedIn is running a series on commencement speeches and advice as older, more experienced people are imparting wisdom for the class of 2013. As someone who was supposed to graduate in 2013, this still somewhat applies to me and I thought I would contribute my own thoughts.
I was supposed to graduate in 2013 from Stanford University, but I wanted to finish a year early. I did this for many different reasons, but one was so that I could stand out. In the three years between 2009 and 2012 I thought a lot about what I would do once I left my classes behind. I knew that graduating a year early would be a way for me to do something bold and it became a personal goal of mine the first day I stepped foot onto campus.
I did not know how hard it was going to be or what I had gotten myself into once I had tried pursuing this goal. After my first quarter I had a GPA above 4.0 and the masochist inside me woke up; I revisited my promise and decided to up the ante by wanting to graduate in three years and maintain a GPA of above 4.0. I kept to my promise.
So where did that leave me?
Far more transparency
The day of my graduation I made another promise. I vowed that I would try to stand out in a similar way to how I distinguish myself in school. This is a much more difficult task because I’m suddenly no longer with my peers and competing with anyone from 22 to retirement. Since 2012 I have done a lot of reflection about what it takes to set yourself apart. At a school where someone is probably going to invent the cure for cancer, it can be pretty intimidating. This is not to scare anyone into retuning their cap and gown and staying a fifth year, but when you get out into the real world it is actually even more overwhelming. Just for starters, our generation has a level of transparency like no other before us because of social media and the Internet.
I wouldn’t say the world was better or worse in 1973 before the term ‘Internet’ was coined, but it consisted of much smaller ponds for graduating students to become big fish. Now, all the ponds all over the world are connected into one vast ‘cyber ocean’ where anyone can see the successes and cleverness of everyone else. How can you live up to any kind of expectations when the entire world is watching? We live in a digital era, but that shouldn’t mean we get swallowed up like guppies by the orcas.
The Class of 1973 did not have Facebook or Twitter. Instead, they were fighting a different battle of continuously outgrowing their pond and not having resources to make a difference on a grand scale. In order to become a big fish they had to focus their hard work over years and couldn’t plan for being an overnight sensation by having something go viral. Just because social media delivers us information instantaneously does not mean success is achieved in the same timescale. Young people used to be thought of as naïve and optimistic and these qualities should never have died. I can look around and see how changing times have changed the dreams: unfortunately, young people are becoming more practical.
What happened to graduating and wanting to change the world? The older generation of people who once wanted to change the world themselves are now looking to us to dream even bigger than they did. Regardless of their support and their motivating us to do something groundbreaking, we have to find it within ourselves to up the ante and be willing to stand out. It is not enough that we will be remembered as the generation of tweeters who amassed a billion people on a single social network. Only one guy did that and we can take no credit as a group for that. Still, there is no reason that anyone should settle for less than that kind of success.
We do not just want to be another statistic and settle for being one out of the billion nameless people who left behind a legacy on Facebook, instead of being like someone who invented Facebook. It is our responsibility to become actively involved in something even bigger. We just have to apply the work ethic of the class of 1973 with the opportunities we have in 2013 and there is hope that we can continue to change the world for the better like those before us did.