This weekend, a new class of University of Wisconsin-Madison students crossed the stage and officially graduated.
To them, congrats! You are now part of an extremely large and prestigious alumni base. Many of us who write for Bucky’s 5th Quarter at some point went to school at UW, and we cherished our time here in Madison.
Take it for what you will, but we decided to put together some words of advice for you who wore gowns, sat and heard J.J. Watt speak, and also potentially pre-gamed this past weekend. Enjoy this time, and we look forward to what you all accomplish!
Drew Hamm: If you are graduating after five or four or even three and a half (like I should have LOOOOOOOOL...my family hates me) years, congratulations. You did it. Earning a college degree isn’t for everyone, but starting something and finishing it is a rock solid accomplishment that should be celebrated. I was a terrible college student that disliked going to class, and it took me the better part of a decade to graduate, but I never disliked learning. And hooo boy, did I learn a lot during my time in Madison.
Make sure you remember all of the learning you did outside of the classroom. Did you have a job, especially at a bar or restaurant, to help pay for school? You definitely learned an ass-load of “real world” skills there. Did you join a club, fraternity/sorority, political organization or intramural team? Same for all of those. My degree in political science will, I’m assuming, never be the reason anyone hires me to do anything, but working at The City Bar on State Street taught me how to throw drunk people up a flight of stairs without severely injuring them. That skill will come in handy now that I’m in charge of moderating the comment section around here.
Look, if you are going to be a mechanical engineer, I’d imagine a lot of your coursework will be pertinent to your job, but if you’re going to go pro in something other than that? Make sure you tap into your outside of class learning in order to maximize your skills. When I was in charge of hiring people for bars I liked to see that people had a college degree but I liked to see even more, someone who was passionate about something...anything. That means you have a curiosity to learn and want to excel at something. That can be molded to fit any job.
Also, uh, do the stuff that Bob says below. It’s easier to be passionate about something if you have a little money in the bank. Also! Call your parents! I didn’t do this enough until I had my daughter, and I regret it.
Also also! If you see Rafael Gaglianone at graduation tell him “Drew from the Internet” says, “Congrats.”
Jake Kocorowski: My advice—follow your passion, and if you haven’t found it yet, keep an eye for it, but also have a plan. Your “calling” very well could change after undergrad. You could go to grad school, you could decide to go into a trade, or you could go straight into the workforce to stay afloat and start paying off those student loans. I didn’t really have a direction after school, and that’s something I should have thought so much more while a junior or a senior (or really even right after school!). I started paying off my enormous amount of student and personal debt while working in retail before finding my first “career” job that set me on a nine-year path of profitability and sustainability for my family, but I realized at 34 years old that even that journey was temporary (and a rough, anxious realization at that).
In my 30s, I found what I think is my passion that I could actually make a career out of. So to add on to my initial advice—follow or try to find your passion, but also branch out if something interests you as a hobby. Be curious! It’s amazing what could catch your eye and change your trajectory.
Work hard, play hard, but never lose the faith. Find a mentor in not just the discipline(s) who you hope to get into, but find one that can help you in life (Bob goes into detail further on that).
Last thing: find some way to give back to your community in some fashion. Be part of and continue the legacy of that Wisconsin Idea.
OK OK, last note, remember this Conan O’Brien quote at the end of his The Tonight Show run:
“Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
There will be tough challenges and times, no doubt, but continue to push forward.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: The first thing is to take care of yourself and build a support team. Yes, your support team should include family and friends, and it should also include health professionals. Find a primary care physician, a dentist, and a counsellor you like. If you don’t have a good experience with a PCP, a dentist, or a counsellor, keep searching. For example, it’s really tempting to say that dentists are terrible after one poor experience, but you should fight the temptation to be an anti-dentite. Rather, keep looking and building your support team.
Avoid unsecured debt or debt with depreciating collateral. Don’t take out a giant car loan right away—buy a 2006 Corolla. Avoid impulse spending on credit cards (you may need those lines of credit for actual emergencies).
Also, do some research on how to manage your credit score. There are a lot of good resources on how to manage credit, but do not rely on only one person for advice. Get multiple opinions on how to manage your credit.
Set up a budget and follow it. Assign a purpose to every dollar. If your employer offers a 401k match, max that out. And if you decide to use a financial advisor, make sure they are a fiduciary. Also watch out for fees in mutual funds and annuities that could eat away at growth. The average car payment is over $500/month, but if you instead invest that $500/month in an S&P 500 index fund starting at graduation, you’re looking at over $2.4 million when you turn 65.
Granted, $2.4 million might not be enough to retire on in 2061, but it’s a great starting point.
You may not be able to afford $500/month, which I don’t fault you for, but if you do have it available, I urge you to find a way to make it work.
There is no shame in not knowing how to manage your finances, so I urge you to ask questions and continue to educate yourself.
This brings me to my last piece of advice: keep learning and challenging yourself. The brain is designed to learn and grow. The joy of being a graduate is that you can focus your efforts on creating your own learning and growth. Nobody will be grading you, you won’t necessarily earn a degree, but I hope you continue to be a lifelong learner. As your journey continues, surround yourself with people who will build you up by encouraging you and challenging you.