Skip to main content

For Class of 2013, a cold shower

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 1:16 PM EDT, Tue May 28, 2013
Oprah Winfrey is set to deliver the commencement at Harvard University on May 30. She spoke at the commencement for Spelman College in Georgia in 2012. Oprah Winfrey is set to deliver the commencement at Harvard University on May 30. She spoke at the commencement for Spelman College in Georgia in 2012.
HIDE CAPTION
Oprah Winfrey
Barack Obama
Wynton Marsalis
Michelle Obama
Michael Bloomberg
Mitt Romney
Bill Cosby
Annie Lennox
Stephen Colbert
The Dalai Lama
Sanya Richards-Ross
Jim Yong Kim
Cal Ripken Jr.
Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Joss Whedon
Steve Wozniak
Kerry Washington
Nate Silver
Dick Costolo
Stanley McChrystal
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Last year a graduation speaker told students "You're not special"
  • He says the viral talk rightly targeted Millennial generation as privileged, entitled
  • Navarrette gives 10 tips for a rewarding life and career
  • He says young people should get to really know their parents, explore life outside comfort zone

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

(CNN) -- Last year, at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at the school and the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, gave the commencement address. He knocked it out of the park, and his words traveled far. What he had to say, America was desperate to hear.

McCullough believes that much of today's youth is "pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped" and shielded from reality. He told the graduates: "Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you."

I've had the privilege of delivering a commencement address, at a university in central California, and I hope someday to deliver another. In fact, I already know what I want to say.

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

So let me try it out on the class of 2013. Talk to college professors or human resource managers or employers. Read the research done on the so-called Millennial generation, and you'll find lots of evidence that McCullough was on the right track. The young people of today have often spent their lives being coddled, catered to and spared the stress of living up to expectations. People usually tell them only what they want to hear. 

Obama to new grads: "No time for excuses"

Not me. I'd rather tell our future leaders what they need to hear. Here are 10 provocative pieces of advice that this year's class of college and university graduates would be wise to take to heart:

1) Have your parents introduce themselves to you. Interview them, and record it. Ask them about their lives, and what stories or lessons they'd like to share with their grandchildren. They gave you life, so the least you can do is try to understand theirs. When they're gone, you'll be glad you did.

2) Follow your passion but be open to the idea that your passion might change and evolve over the years as you do. Don't be afraid to change course and go in a different direction. You're allowed to have second thoughts, about what you want to do and how you intend to spend your life.

Obama: Misconducts ripple far and wide
2012: Let kids achieve on their own

3) Never forget that, despite what society has told you, you're not special, as McCullough said in his graduation speech. The world doesn't revolve around you. And you mustn't feel entitled to anything. No one is better than you, but you're not better than anyone else. Treat everyone with respect, as long as they treat you the same way.

4) Break out of your comfort zone. Do what you're most afraid of. Avoid what is easy and predictable. Travel the country and the world. Meet new people and strive to see the world from their vantage point. Stay curious. Ask questions. And never stop learning.

5) Don't just accept failure, but welcome it. Expect it. Learn from it. Treat it as a valuable learning experience. Remember, if you always get everything you want, and accomplish everything you set out to do, then you've failed anyway. Because you've set your goals too low.

6) Question authority and challenge your beliefs. Jump into the public debate. Become engaged. Democracy is a participatory sport; you take part, or you get taken apart. It doesn't matter what you believe. What matters is that you thought your way there and can explain why you believe it.

7) For those of you who choose, or are able, to get married -- and hopefully, one day, all of you will be -- who you decide to marry will go a long way toward determining your success. It's more important than degrees from fancy schools. People can either lift you up, or bring you down. Choose well.

8) For those who you who choose, or are able, to have children, when you set to raise them, give them the one thing they want most: your time. Teach them to be productive. But more importantly, teach them, by example, to be good people, who treat fellow human beings kindly and with respect.

9) As you go through life, don't be afraid to have high expectations of your children, of others, and of yourself. There are worse things than being disappointed because someone didn't perform as you hoped. Like giving up on them and not expecting much from the beginning.

10) Finally, many years from now, when you go to your rest, your most important accomplishment in life won't be the money you earned or the success you enjoyed. The only thing that will endure, and let the world know you were here in the first place, is the impact you had on other people. Make it a positive one.

That's it. Take it, or leave it. Everyone enjoys the comfort of a warm bath. But sometimes, what's called for is a cold shower. 

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT