Mark Twain gave this advice to young people: “Always do right — this will gratify some and astonish the rest.”
As Chattahoochee Valley students graduate from high school, their elders have some words of wisdom, too.
Be true to yourself
Kike Seda is the owner of A-1 Postage Meters and Shipping Services and co-owner of the Columbus Lions football team. The 67-year-old native of Puerto Rico says there is nothing more important for a graduate to know than “be true to yourself and never compromise your principles.”
“Don’t let friends or trends sway you from what you believe,” Seda says. “My other advice is strive to do the best job you can do no matter what it is. As a young man, I worked in a mill. I swept floors. My boss said he’d never seen someone do such a good job. When I moved up, it took two people to do my cleaning duties. Eventually, I became the youngest executive with the company.”
To the Rev. Wayne Baker, pastor at Spirit Filled Ministries in Columbus, work can mean reading and studying. “Put your head in a book and keep it there,” the 60-year-old Grambling alumnus says.
And he doesn’t mean Facebook.
“Don’t hang out with a bad crowd unless you can influence them for good,” he adds. “Also, pursue spiritual things, not material.”
Dawn Cox, 33, the radio personality for WVRK-Rock-103, suggests graduates have fun while they can. “Get out and do things,” says the former Fort Benning soldier. “I don’t mean go crazy. Get a good education but also go to fun places and do exciting stuff before you are saddled down with a job and family. Also, find a job you love.”
Arthur Sumbry Jr., the Russell County coroner, wants to remind young people that life is short.
“My advice to graduates,” says the 38-year-old Sumbry, “is to live your life carefully. You only have one chance. Love and cherish those around you. Don’t lose someone close and then wish you had told them that you were sorry for something. It’s too late. Plan a road map for your life and stay on it.”
Following the map
As she ends her reign as Miss Georgia, Chasity Hardman of Columbus agrees that everybody needs a road map, especially graduates headed to college.
“Stay focused on your goals and don’t let anything or anyone distract you while you’re at college,” says Hardman, 24. “Get off to a good start because decisions made as a freshman can affect you forever.”
Elder Bobby Harris, director of the House of Mercy in Columbus, says he would tell graduates to “watch your company.”
“In every conversation, a person should ask, ‘Where is this going to lead me?’” he says. “‘What is going to be the result?’ Never do anything just to appease or please your friends.”
Harris, 59, adds that students should always remain students. Of education, he says, “Keep doing it until you just can’t anymore.”
Work hard and stick with it
Murray Solomon is past retirement age, but the resident manager of Raymond James Financial Services says he’s busy helping other people figure out a way to retire in these difficult economic times. He advises young people to stay busy, too.
“High school graduates should go to college,” Solomon says, “and while in college they should prepare for the future by getting some kind of job even if it is part time. It will help them get a leg up on other students and will let them get a real feel for the business world and its interaction with the community. They need to break out of their small little world.”
Marie Cordero, vice president for small business development for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says her granddaughter got a part-time job in the field in which she wants to make a career.
“Find out what you want to do, what you want to be, and then work hard toward that,” says Cordero, a Puerto Rican native. “Remember that things you do such as absenteeism at school can come back to haunt you later.”
Teresa Tomlinson, 44, an attorney and director of Midtown Inc., says students should seize opportunities whether in college or in the workplace, having “the desire to show up and do something.”
“There are opportunities available to all of us to get involved,” she says. “Sometimes, a student believes they can’t get into an activity at school because they’re not a Phi Beta Kappa, but they can. What’s really valuable is having the inclination to join up and work.”
Columbus Mayor Jim Wetherington encourages young people to “decide as soon as possible what you want to do with your life, whether it’s school or in the work force.”
“No matter what,” says the 71-year-old former police chief, “be the best you can be.”
But realize that being the best takes time and persistence, says Jay Sparks, the athletic director at Columbus State University. “You can’t be afraid to fail,” says the 50-year-old Sparks. “Sometimes, you‘ve got fail in order to succeed.”
He quotes former basketball star Michael Jordan, who once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
But being willing to fail does not mean being reckless, says Silvia Bunn, a native of the Caribbean and branch manager for the Mildred L. Terry Branch Library. She advises: “Watch your choices.”
“Kids just don’t understand that decisions they make now can have big consequences for them in the future,” she says. “They’ve got to understand the consequences.”
Working your way up
And even after college, a student should be prepared to start at the bottom, says Wayne Anthony, a Columbus City Councilor and financial advisor. “You’d better be ready to accept that when you join a company, it’s going to be at the entry level,” he says. “That’s a reality check for some folks, that even with that degree they still have to work their way up at the job.”
Tom Sykes, a 38-year-old firefighter at Station 1 in Columbus, advises graduates to continue their education even after joining the work force.
“It’s like this job here,” he says, leaning against a red engine. “If you want to get promoted, you’ve got to continue your education. Stay in school would be my main advice, but also remember learning doesn’t stop once you get out of college.”
Bridgett Reynolds, 28, didn’t attend college but says that hasn’t stopped her from doing what she enjoys. She loves beautiful clothes, she says, and now she’s a manager at Bougie Boutique in downtown Columbus. “You’ve got to fulfill your dreams,” she says. “Don’t hold back.”
Oh, and be ready for change, says Carolyn Hugley, a state legislator who owns a State Farm Insurance business.
“Try to acquire as many skills as possible,” she says. “Continue your education. Plan ahead but always have a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t turn out.”