This year I had the honor of speaking to students and their families at a high school graduation ceremony. Below is an excerpt from my speech that I wish to share with the entire CS community:
The most important piece of advice my oldest daughter and I heard when she was packing for college was: Don’t forget to bring a doorstop. This is imminently practical advice because college dorm rooms typically have heavy industrial, self-closing, and sometimes self-locking doors, so the doorstop ensures that you don’t get locked out each time you climb the flights of stairs to bring up another suitcase or set of plastic drawers. Following this advice, my daughter and I bought a cute little blue doorstop in the shape of a quotation mark, which seemed perfect – and kind of adorable – because she wanted to be an English major.
And guess what? That cute little doorstop totally didn’t work! After several tries with the little blue doorstop underneath the heavy metal door, my daughter and her roommate came up with a much better system that used a hanger and a belt and a large hook on the opposite wall. And that system stayed in place all year!
So why am I telling you this? A few reasons: the first harkens back to my earlier story [an earlier story in the speech, not excerpted here] — that you shouldn’t necessarily chase after the “cool” or most popular major or internships or job prospects that seem to glitter. Instead of purchasing the cute blue doorstop, we should have probably bought the ugly, industrial brown doorstop that would have been much more practical and effective.
But another reason I share this story is that this school has given you tools to be creative problem-solvers and inventors. When you face your first snafu or setback – a broken doorstop let’s say – take a breath, find a buddy, and work together to come up with a solution; a solution likely to be even better and more effective than the original. In the research world, that’s called resilience, bouncing back from a setback, and innovation — thinking outside the box, iterating, revising, and giving new ideas a try.
In addition, there are some real benefits to keeping your door open — literally and figuratively: my daughter told me that she was one of the only people to keep her door open in the dorm when she was home. Because of this, people stopped by to say hello and visit, and it was in this way that she began to find her own community. In high school, you have community built in, you know everyone and have established friendships. Now you need to go out and find a new community to support and nourish you. To cite some more research — people are happiest, live longer, and report feelings of greater success when they feel like they are a valued part of their community. So find the college version of the senior lounge, bake some brownies for your dormmates, sign up for a club or a weekend excursion, and stay open to new experiences and people. Find your community while staying true to your values. It may take awhile to find the right-fit friends, but you will.
I have advised you to stay open to new experiences and be true to your core values, and to seek a community that will sustain and nourish you. I want to end with a bit of research on the benefits of being kind to yourself and to others. You have one body that has to last an entire lifetime, and you need to be healthy — physically and mentally to be able to TRULY enjoy success. So please follow good sleep habits in college, aim for 8 hours, wear your sunscreen, eat more veggies … I know this is easy to say and much harder to do, but it will pay off. And perhaps most important, remember to find positive ways to cope with stress when you face it. Exercise, listen to music, take a walk, call a friend or your family, and reach out for help when you need it. You know all this, I am sure, but it sometimes is hard to remember when you are in the thick of things, miles away from home.
And it turns out that one of the best ways to be kind to yourself, boost your health, your grades, and your overall well-being is to practice gratitude. It sounds so simple, but there is good science behind the notion of saying thank you, showing appreciation for all that you have been given, and in turn, giving back to others and doing service. In fact, everyone can practice this amazing health benefit today. Thank a teacher for making a difference in your life, hug a friend who has helped you in a time of need, and be sure to thank your parents for all that they have done and will continue to do for you as you embark on your next adventure.
Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning. She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.