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Our Views: Taking on life's next stage
Class of 2015 faces an uncertain world, but the right qualities can lead to success
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To send a letter to the editor, learn the letters policy fill out a form online or send to The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor Keith Albertson.

See Sunday's print edition of The Times for Climbing Every Mountain, a keepsake section celebrating some of the local stars of the Class of 2015.

It’s that time of year when proud young men and women don the odd yet traditional attire of colored robes and a square hat with a dangly tail, walk across a crowded stage to much fanfare and clutch a piece of rolled-up paper that says, in essence, “You have reached the next level. Move ahead one giant step.”

The Class of 2015 will follow myriad others that came before, each new graduate equal parts hopeful and terrified of what lies ahead.

Their challenges over the decades have changed: Wars, depression, social upheaval, fluctuating job markets, ever-shifting economies and a world that grows more uncertain and unforgiving with each new crop of tassel-flippers. Those obstacles change but never go away, no matter what graduates plan for the next stage they cross.

High school graduates headed to college face changing educational requirements and perhaps a heavy debt burden when their next diploma is earned. College graduates step into a job market growing in some areas and shrinking in others, hoping they rolled the dice and chose the right field. And grads headed into the military will defend a world more unstable than ever amid a changing defense strategy.

It’s as if each is walking off the stage to the cheers of loved ones straight into a pit of quicksand that threatens to swallow them.

Too pessimistic? Perhaps. But they’re not children anymore and must leave the fantasyland of youth for the reality of a harsh world where only the best and brightest will prevail. They can’t close their eyes and wish it any different.

And some will be more prepared than others. A recent report from the education advocacy group Achieve shows Georgia students rank low on their ability to succeed in college or the workplace based on academic measurements.

The tests they face next won’t be easily passed, that’s a given. So instead of focusing on what’s beyond their control, members of the Class of ’15 must zero in on what they can control: their own behavior and actions. The good news is this hard world can be conquered — and has been before — by those who summon their best qualities, make the right adjustments and catch a little wave of luck.

That’s why today’s graduates should fine-tune a few personal qualities to help them succeed in whatever endeavor they seek, offered from the rear-view mirror of experience (disclosure: the names in the editorial board box at the bottom of this page have been around awhile).

Yes, it’s easier to preach than to practice, but a few of these mantras may help you dodge and weave your way past many of the potholes ahead. So, grads, do the following ...

• Stay flexible. Always a desirable quality, now more than ever. Today’s high-tech world turns on a dime, yesterday’s innovation fast becoming tomorrow’s VCR. Pick your path and know your destination, but don’t fear detours that will get you where you want to go.

 Be nice. Common courtesy never goes out of style. Whether dealing with the public or just colleagues, a pleasant disposition and kindness will caulk over many transgressions. You’ll sleep better at night knowing you’re that kind of person.

 Be real. Stay honest and true to yourself and others. Liars don’t last and phonies fade. Besides, nobody likes them.

 Always hustle. The race isn’t always to the swift, and the tortoise can catch the hare. Be that guy or gal who shows up early, makes the extra call, gives a little bit more and dives after every loose ball. Like compassion, hustle can make up for a lot of mistakes. And yet, remember that ...

 Effort isn’t enough. There likely were times in your early academic career when a sympathetic teacher or coach gave you credit for trying hard. Those days are over. Your boss, college professor or commanding officer has no interest in energy spent without results; in a bottom line world, you have to produce.

Remember the wise counsel of Yoda: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

 Step outside yourself. Move beyond your personal space to become part of something bigger. That means going all-in as part of the team. Be the person others rely on to share the credit without hogging the spotlight. Offer yourself to the community at large and contribute to a greater good, whatever that may be. Your heart will benefit, and the relationships you forge will serve you well down the road.

 Keep learning. Even those leaving the halls of academia for other ventures should know their education has only begun. Processing information in a classroom is nothing compared to the high-stakes, full-speed cram course found in the real world. Soak it all in, ask a lot of questions and don’t let it scare you. Those wise old hands showing you the ropes were in your shoes once. Someday you’ll be the one training the next crew of newbies.

 Listen well. A wise man once said he never learned anything when he was talking. Ask good questions, then hush and listen to the answers.

 And one last one: Have fun. Life is as much a journey as a destination, so remember to enjoy the ride. A good day’s effort is its own reward; embrace it, celebrate it and own it with a smile on your face.

In fact, just keep that same smile that was beaming from under your mortar boards as you clenched that beloved scroll of paper with your name on it. Good luck and Godspeed.

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