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Hug Your Parents, and 7 Other Lessons for New Grads

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Commencement, circa 2005. I'm on the right.

The day after graduation at Miami University in Ohio, I took a run through campus.

Barricades blocked paths, and white party tents waited to be disassembled. Ikea shelves and desks and deck chairs lined curbs. Kids snapped last-minute photos, while moms and dads carried storage bins and hitched U-Haul trailers to the backs of SUVs.

It had been a while since I'd seen this scene - about 10 years. I graduated from college in 2005 and, after a short stint abroad, moved to New York City. It took me eight years and two special friendships to return to school for my master's degree.

Being an older student doesn't necessarily make me a wiser one, but it sure does come with a view. This time around, I know so much more about myself, and about what it takes to be happy in and outside of school. It has a lot to do with the company we keep, what  gerontologists call social connectedness. No matter how independent we may feel, our lives are linked with those around us.

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So, for the new grads out there, here's some wisdom to consider as you set off to connect - with others and with yourselves. And parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, feel free to share these with the grads in your lives.

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Mom, thanks for the road map.

1. Hug your parents. Once you're in the real world, you'll come to rely on them like never before. Maybe you call your mom or dad once a week now, but just wait. You'll text/email/call them three times a day when you're applying for that dream job. Thank them in advance.

2. Volunteer. High school and college are full of service opportunities, but when you graduate, you have to seek them on your own. Do it. Giving back introduces you to new people and new ways of thinking that can shape your future in unexpected ways.

3. Kiss frogs. This is true in dating, and also in your career. Not every job (or boyfriend or girlfriend) is a perfect match, and that's OK. Trust that a career path is forming, even when your direction feels off.

4. Talk to strangers. Email the superstar alum you idolize. Meet a friend-of-a-friend for happy hour. What's the worst that could happen? Chances are you'll find something in common, and you never know - one conversation could lead to many.

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5. Know your neighbors. It's easy meeting the people who live on your dorm hall. It takes a bit more effort to get to know the next-door neighbors. Say hi, and invite them to your next party. Even if they don't show, it never hurts to include them.

6. Study abroad. Nope, it's not too late. Consider travel a lifelong endeavor. When you're a newcomer to an area, you naturally fall into research mode, picking up on local customs, languages and attitudes. Going places puts you in a position to learn.

7. Save. Your company matches 401(k) contributions? Recognize this as music to your ears - and start moving to stash some cash.

8. Keep learning. Take a pottery class, or sign up for a walking tour of your town. Just because you're done with school (for now) doesn't mean you're done with learning. Spoiler alert: We're all still learning, every single day.

What other advice would you pass along to this year's graduates?


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