Through Great Adversity, You Did It – Advice for the Class of 2020

Jeremy C. Park shares life lessons for the graduating class

High school and college graduations are different right now, but still serve as important achievements and milestones; and deserve to be celebrated. We’re seeing new levels of creativity with virtual graduation ceremonies, Zoom parties with family and friends, and graduation photo shoots around the campuses that offer some normalcy and allow graduates and families an opportunity to create memories they can cherish together for years to come. Having two nieces who graduate this year, Emma Knight from the University of North Alabama, and Olivia Knight from Corinth High School, I figured we would revisit and refresh some advice I shared five years ago in this Giving Back column. Even though the times have changed, the advice still holds true today. This advice and lessons learned are things I wish I would have learned sooner in life, and are not just for Emma and Olivia, they are for anyone and everyone who is stepping out into new beginnings. 

First, focus every day on the things you can control. You have total control over your attitude and effort. One of my favorite sayings is “Good attracts good” because I both believe it to be true, and have seen it play out over and over in my life. If you are a good person with a good attitude and work ethic, who treats others with kindness and respect, you will have countless more opportunities in life than others who approach each day and person with a negative attitude or work ethic. Opportunities in your life and career will come from other people, who will give you an opportunity to succeed; so the more you focus on consistently having a positive attitude and giving maximum effort, the more likely you will be able to achieve all you seek to achieve.

It is hard to understand right now, especially while we are still in the middle of COVID-19, but believe that everything happens for a reason. We encourage kindness, respect, and helping others, but the reality is that the world is not always kind. Many people and situations in life will challenge your will and leave you enraged, broken, or in tears; but understanding there is a higher purpose to make you stronger and wiser, more patient and persistent, you will begin to see every experience as a chance to grow. The greatest challenges yield the greatest returns and the people I admire most did not get to the top because everything went perfectly for them. Rather, they got there because things went wrong, they faced resistance, grew stronger, and persevered!

Next, look at every day as a chance to learn something new. Explore and let your curiosity lead you in different directions. Learn about other cities, countries, cultures, languages, and values. By learning from others, you will learn about yourself and make lifelong friends. Different perspectives lead to new ideas! Try new foods, take an online class to learn a new skill, volunteer at different nonprofits, or strike up a conversation with a stranger. Curiosity will open new doors, present new opportunities, and give you wonderful stories to share.

Lastly, know that you have a purpose, and everyone has value. Your purpose might shift over time, but the best way to find it and to find yourself is to serve others. The more value you add in the lives of others and the more you serve, the more you will realize that you can accomplish everything you want in life and your career by focusing on helping others.

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