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Advice for the College Class of 2016

I reached out to 40 leaders from various professions--many of whom are friends, colleagues, or acquaintances--and asked them one question: What advice would you give the 2016 graduating class?
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In writing my most recent Huffington Post piece, I wanted to collect insights from those who have braved the front lines and share them with those who are preparing to take on the world. I reached out to 40 leaders from various professions--many of whom are friends, colleagues, or acquaintances--and asked them one question:

What advice would you give the 2016 graduating class?

The responses that this distinguished and eclectic array of professionals provided are gems. Class of 2016, it is my pleasure to share these with you:

"If you have been fortunate enough to have majored in the area that you are most passionate about, then you have done well! Find your passion in life and never work a day in your life! So follow your heart and never ever be satisfied, for the status quo is the enemy to excellence and the pursuit of excellence is a journey well taken! Always seek to help others and the reward coming back to you is tenfold! Best wishes and never take no for an answer!" --Darryl Adams, superintendent, Coachella Valley Unified School District

"Don't be overly worried about getting on a track or a course in life. Despite what you've been told, life ebbs and flows and there is a lot of time and space for changing directions, for failing, for trying something new. No one decision is critical. Stay healthy, travel as much as you can, enjoy every year you've got." --Sandow Birk, internationally acclaimed visual artist

"It can be a difficult and humbling transition from college to a career. Employers often seek out a team player to fill an entry-level position, so hone in on your listening skills, take direction without complaint, and learn to work well within a varied age group of coworkers." --Kathleen Buehler, president and executive director, Blind Children's Learning Center

"A college education should not be focused on how to make a living but rather how to live. What I mean by that is study the arts, philosophy, literature, history, etc., all of which will enrich your life forever!" --Anthony Capozzi, Fresno, Calif.-based attorney

"Anticipate what is next and be decisive. No one else can do this for you. When you take accountability for every outcome in your life, others will recognize that virtue and will respect your path. Don't blame others for things that don't go right, as it is wasteful energy that can be used more productively." --Akin Ceylan, chief operating officer of home entertainment and global content delivery, Lionsgate

"Congratulations on reaching a significant life milestone! As you celebrate with your family and friends, remember that you were born with the innate potential--and I would argue an obligation--to make a meaningful contribution to the world. Today's achievement should empower you to pursue your personal and career ambitions with gusto. There is nothing wrong with building financial security, climbing the professional ladder, or accumulating professional accolades. Just remember that none of us get very far on our own. There was always someone who lent a helping hand or broke a barrier that allowed you to advance. Pay it forward through volunteerism, mentoring, charitable giving, civic engagement, or standing up for a good cause. No matter the method, find a way to invest in your fellow Californians. I promise the return on your investment will make a difference and magnify the significance of your graduation today." --John Chiang, California state treasurer

"I would offer the same advice a mentor gave me the day I was appointed president of Chapman University. At the time (25 years ago), I told him that I was really intimidated by the responsibilities placed in my hands. The following words were the best advice anyone ever gave me and one that I would offer to graduates: 'Just treat every person with respect and dignity, and you'll do just fine.'" --James Doti, president, Chapman University

"Consider a career in public service seriously. There is nothing more fulfilling or satisfying than being in a position where you can make a difference in the lives of your fellow citizens. And don't pay any attention to a lot of the noisy rhetoric that we have been hearing lately. The quality and caliber of public service in this country is the best it has ever been, and you can help make it even better." --Michael Dukakis, former governor of Massachusetts

"The biggest complaint I hear from employers about younger generations is we feel entitled to a status we haven't yet earned. So don't assume you're entitled to that phone call back--if it doesn't happen, drop by the office, submit your résumé in person, and ask to talk to whomever you called. Set yourself apart by showing you're more dogged than your peers." --Adam Elmahrek, senior reporter, Voice of OC

"A life that is meaningful and joyful, and a world that works for all, require that you be generous and compassionate with yourself and others in all endeavors; follow your curiosity wherever it takes you; forgive what's unforgivable." --Paula Garb, codirector, UC Irvine Center for Citizen Peacebuilding

"My advice is to eschew mediocrity, in yourself, your children, your employees, and your country. Excellence is a state of mind. Go get 'em!" --Jim Gray, 2012 Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. vice president

"Every one of us has some special ability. Find yours and have a passion to do your very best. Success does not happen overnight. Be willing to start at an entry-level position, develop a strong work ethic, be loyal, and whenever you make a decision, ask yourself, 'Is this the right thing to do?'" --John "Rocky" Hewitt, retired Orange County (Calif.) assistant sheriff

"In thinking about a response to your question, I was immediately struck by a well-known quote from a local community leader here in San Diego, Malin Burnham. He is a family friend and is famous for saying 'Community Before Self.' This slogan is also printed on his business card! This is a very fitting and simple message that I would pass onto the class of 2016. I would also tell them to make sure they continue to exercise the incredible freedoms we all have in this country and be sure to vote!" --Sarah Kruer Jager, partner, investment and development, Monarch Group

"Enormous change is accelerating across the globe you are now entering. Welcome that change and contribute your passion and talents to being a positive force for good. Use the knowledge foundation you have constructed to make the world a better place for everyone. And most importantly, along your journey, have fun." --Mark Chapin Johnson, trustee and presidential fellow, Chapman University

"When you walk into a room, your business card is not taped to your forehead. More important than your position or recent accomplishment are what you say and how you maintain yourself in an adverse environment. Be confident. Stay current on topics. And, be humble!" --Pattyl Aposhian Kasparian, vice president of marketing and development, Caltech Employees Federal Credit Union

"It starts with what you are doing now, that is, do your homework. I advise you seek out and listen to a wide variety of people and sources of information. And that effort is part of the second bit of advice I have to offer: plan for yourself because you can't count on anyone else to do it for you. Next, start immediately to create and sustain a network of professional contacts. And finally, try not to lose sight of the bigger picture--you have a degree, life experience, friends, and family pulling for you, and in that sense you are already way ahead of the game." --James Keith, former deputy assistant secretary of state for China and former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia

"We can be our biggest hindrance to releasing untapped potential. So remember that one cannot talk defeat and expect victory. Stay positive and keep prophesying success." --Nikan Khatibi, pain and addiction medicine physician; trustee, California Health Professions Education Foundation

"The one thing I am sure of is that you must become the designer of your destiny and take your life into your own hands. You will have experiences that occur in your life that will be good and bad, and your job is to understand and realize the meaning behind each of these as it is serving your own evolution. Lastly, take care of your body and soul as they will affect every single aspect of your life." --Parmis Khatibi, chairperson, World Affairs Council of Orange County (Calif.)

"John Stuart Mill wrote that, 'not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.' Don't be a sage, don't look for admiration. Only optimists can change the world." --David Koranyi, director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasian Energy Futures Initiative

"Remember that on your journey of lifelong learning and personal growth, college is one of many steps, not the last step. Never stop learning; never stop growing." --Jeremy Korr, dean, Brandman University School of Arts and Sciences

"Don't be afraid to fail because success is ultimately built upon one's failures." --David Long, assistant professor of criminal justice and legal studies, Brandman University

"Please remember that the world wasn't created on the day you were born. What you have and what you know are thanks to so many people who have gone before you. So please try and make the world an even better place for the next generation." --John Malott, president and CEO, Japan America Society of Washington D.C., former U.S. ambassador to Malaysia

"It is not what you do that will matter in the end, but how you choose to do it. Whatever you do, do it with integrity, do it with diligence, and assume your path can only be paved through relentless perseverance. Character, above all else, will be your most valuable asset. Spare no expense and effort in building it!" --Edgar Martirosyan, Los Angeles-based attorney

"After you graduate, you might feel like you're all alone with just your wits and résumé. And we're always told things like 'the future is made with your choices.' But always know there are others there with you, others who have gone before and will help guide you, others behind you cheering you on. You, too, will therefore have the obligation to be there for those who come after, into a world that you all will have helped to make, together." --Bill Maurer, dean, UC Irvine School of Social Sciences

"The most common question I hear from graduates is: What should I do next? My best suggestion is to take some time to reflect on where you've been and how it relates to your short-term and long-term goals. If you need help with reflecting, consider recruiting a coach or mentor to guide you through the process. Once you've identified your goals, network with your peers, former professors, and industry leaders. Remember to be passionate, be strategic, be courageous, and most importantly, be you!" --Shandell Maxwell, activist, researcher, and creator of Black Behind the Orange Curtain (2013)

"Be open to risk taking in order to find what you love to do each day. Work should engage your gifts, interests, and skills and make you feel fulfilled and challenged...so do not settle! Be willing to try new things and make mistakes...it's only by trying that you learn about your many talents." --Catherine Muzzy, principal, St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church Parish School

"Stay in touch with who you are, and find work that you truly love. If you continue to take time for self-reflection, you will find the grounding and courage to make decisions, even the difficult ones. While it is good to have goals and a vision for where you want to go, remember that you can (and will) change directions in life's journey. Be open to new experiences and nimble enough to take advantage of the opportunities that reveal themselves." --Kim Braun Padulo, assistant professor and associate director of leadership studies program, Chapman University

"Be open-minded to possible jobs or internships that may not be the perfect fit for what the graduate imagined. The first job doesn't have to be the last. But if one is willing to try something unconventional or a little outside the comfort zone, they might find a new passion or an even better opportunity. And if it turns out not to be quite right, take your newly found experience and use it as a stepping-stone for the next job." --Catherine Pearlman, America's preeminent family coach

"The planet is melting, and we older people are too fat and lazy to do anything about it. Someone out there needs to figure out how to save Earth from global warming. Make it you. We need you. Please." --Jeff Pearlman, author of four New York Times bestselling books

"Diversify and integrate your experiences and skills in ways that make it clear to employers how your academic knowledge and training translate into practical insights and marketable skills, always grounded in who you are as human beings at the core of your essence." --Michael Perez, professor of sociology, California State University, Fullerton

"Take the job you like, regardless of pay. Question conventional wisdom. Tip generously. Listen." --Rick Reiff, editor-at-large, Orange County Business Journal, and cohost of Studio So-Cal (PBS-SoCal)

"My advice is to follow your passion but consider realities. Many of the jobs open now and in the near future are in the STEM industry. Keep some certificates related to this industry in your back pocket to support your dreams." --June Schmieder-Ramirez, program director, Ph.D. in global leadership and change program, Pepperdine University

"Remain hopeful. Don't give into fear. Participate. Question everything. Don't lose your sense of humor and always, always, be kind." --Anne Serling, author of As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013)

"Take the time to find your passion...and then follow it. Also, remember the words of the singer Jewel (in "Hands"): 'In the end, only kindness matters.'" --Rick Simpson, senior adviser to the Speaker of the California State Assembly

"Don't just look for opportunities that will look good on your résumé. Leave room to let your curiosity drive you. Look for the opportunities that challenge and stretch you; look for the opportunities that allow you to change the world for the better. For me, those are the ones that have been the most rewarding." --Gayle Smith, administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development

"Don't believe the hype about changing the world. Most graduates will not change the world. Most of us never did. But what you can do is to do your job well, with integrity, and to respect (should I dare say 'love') those around you. If you do so, you will make a real contribution to everybody else's happiness. And, in this way, you will, in fact, change, in a small way, the world." --Daniele Struppa, chancellor, Chapman University

"In your professional and personal life, relationships are very important. Do not underestimate the importance of them. They can be your greatest asset to resolving conflict, building bridges, and achieving goals." --Andy Sulick, president, Santa Margarita Catholic High School

"You now have the privilege of a college degree with all the doors it helps open. With that opportunity and achievement comes the obligation to give back to your community though donating your time or your money to those less fortunate and to build a strong democracy through civic engagement." --Eileen Walsh, chair and associate professor of sociology, California State University, Fullerton

"My advice for college graduates would be to travel the world for a while and if possible to intern/work abroad before jumping into a graduate career or job. It is difficult to have the time, responsibility, and mental flexibility to do this later in life, and we are facing more and more global challenges that can only be solved by people with global perspectives and experiences." --Daniel Wehrenfennig, executive director, the Olive Tree Initiative

"Take a big risk in your twenties. Start up your start up; write that screenplay that's percolating in your head; delay grad school or a desk job to tour with your band. Your regrets will be watching the pitches that pass; not the swings and the misses. Take the bat off your shoulder." --L. Jon Wertheim, executive editor, Sports Illustrated

Michael A. (Mike) Moodian is a former chairman of the World Affairs Council of Orange County (Calif.).