Career Advice for the Class of 2012

Career Coach New York CityExcited, anxious, a little sad…remember how you felt as a high school grad? 

I was honored and excited to be the commencement speaker for the class of 2012 at my high school alma mater (MMI Preparatory School in Freeland, PA) last week.  It was a dream come true.  

MMI is super competitive. Just graduating from there is an accomplishment.  It was great to give back and be of service to 37 amazing young people.  

I was salutatorian 20 years ago.  Back then, my message was about finding success by following in others’ footsteps.  

This time, if you’re a reader of my blog or have been a coaching client or listener to my radio show, you can probably guess my message:

When passion meets purpose, there’s no stopping success.  

I say this to everyone making a living.  Because when you Soul Search, Research & Job Search, you find your passion and purpose.  Success, then ends up finding you. 

Read on for my commencement address and advice on finding lasting career success no matter when you graduated high school…


To the Class of 2012… CONGRATULATIONS!  This is your day. How good does it feel?

NO more homework, NO more assemblies or open house projects. NO more quizzes, exams, papers.

You’ve made it. How GOOD does it feel?Parents & teachers: how happy are you too!?

I know my parents were right there with me during my MMI days.  I am very thankful to them for the opportunity.  And parents, your kids will appreciate what you did in sending them to MMI as I appreciate my parents today. I know how hard you’ve all worked & the amount of energy you’ve all put in to get to this point. It’s more than many will accomplish in their entire lives.

When I was here they told us the homework would keep us off the streets & out of trouble. While that may still be the case, rest assured that you’ve learned a lot more here than just how to keep busy. You may not realize it, but in my experience, everything I needed to know I learned at MMI. I did, and so did you. For starters, you are well prepared for more than just college. Life is a daily test of your abilities but you’ve proven you can make it through Mr. Cusat’s math tests, Senior’s Spanish quizzes and Mrs. Titus’s papers. You didn’t crack under pressure. You rose to the challenge and responded to it.

Not only that, you haven’t just learned proper grammar or a new language or how to master calculus, you now know HOW TO LEARN. And you will continue learning & evolving your entire lives. Lifelong learning is not just nice catchphrase. It’s a must in today’s world that is critical to lasting success in life & career. As Darwin said, it’s not the fittest who survive but the most adaptable. Knowing how to learn makes you adaptable and will make you successful in any career you choose. I’ve changed careers five times. Yes, five times.

I started out as an accountant/CPA.  Then I became a management consultant. Next up,  a corporate trainer. Then an entrepreneur career consultant… a radio host… and now, in addition to that, I’m also a mom – a career in itself!

Two times my employer was the impetus for my transition.  But other times I chose to change, and you probably will too. It’s OK.

The number of careers one has in a lifetime is increasing with each generation. You will learn & adapt your talents to changing circumstances, & will not just survive but thrive no matter what future employers or future economies undergo.

On top of that, you’ve conquered a fear most people rank highest in their lives public speaking! 

Though you may not yet fully appreciate the years of terror, –I mean “experience” – you have giving assembly speeches, you will soon find that you have no problem expressing yourself and getting your points across.

Without this particular skill, I know I wouldn’t have had the courage and experience to host a national career talk show for six years on SiriusXM satellite radio for the Martha Stewart channel or share my views on CNN a dozen times where I was introduced as” one of America’s best known career coaches.”  

Believe me all your hard work will pay lasting dividends too. Having just celebrated my 20 yr reunion, I can honestly say that if you can make it here, you truly can make it anywhere.

I’ve interviewed & been in the presence of dozens of successful and “famous” people like Martha Stewart, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, & wellness guru Deepak Chopra. From their experience and my own, I’ve learned a very important career lesson: When passion meets purpose, there’s no stopping success.

Yes, they had a strong work ethic, and YOU do too after MMI.  They also had a dream, a vision of what they wanted to become. They not only followed their passion but became their dream and made their ideal a reality.

  • Martha Stewart didn’t stop at becoming a caterer.  She dreamt of having a TV show and making “living” into a magazine and ultimately a multi-media company. She DID.
  • Martina Navratilova didn’t want to just be a great tennis player in her home country of Czechoslovakia. She wanted to become an international superstar at tournaments like Wimbledon. She DID, even though it meant defecting and leaving her family behind under communist rule.
  • Deepak Chopra dropped out of a prestigious Harvard program because he wanted to become a revolutionary in the medical field. He DID.

You too have witnessed firsthand the amazing things that can happen when passion meets purpose. We are all here b/c Sophia and Eckley Coxe were socially responsible (before it was cool). The tradition of excellence they started has produced a long list of successful alumni.

My speech as salutatorian highlighted just a few stellar examples of the heights an MMI grad can reach. And that was twenty years ago. The list is even more impressive today. You are now on it! You are now a part of this tradition.

From here on out, as MMI alums, your lives and careers will present bigger, more exciting & more rewarding opportunities b/c of the foundation built here. No dream is too big or goal too bold for an MMI grad to achieve.

I dreamt of being commencement speaker one day.  And here I am, speaking to all of you.  

It’s OK if you don’t know exactly what you want your career to be. I certainly didn’t! But NOW is the time for you to allow your passions to shine through, to start your own soul search. I am sure you have already realized where your natural talents and passions lie.  Think of an activity or project you’ve been involved with at school.  The yearbook, Guys & Dolls, Mock Trial… The kind of thing you just loved doing… loved the people around you… and loved being there until the work got done.  That’s how you want to feel when you’re following your passion.

I know this and live this because I focus on helping others find and follow their passions as a career coach. When I take my clients through a process of Soul Search, Research, THEN Job Search, often times what they loved to do (& were good at) in high school still hold true today.

I find we all know what our passion really is. And what I’ve learned coaching thousands, is that your dreams align perfectly with what the world most NEEDS YOU to do. So here’s your last assignment.  (Don’t worry; it doesn’t effect your grades or final transcript.)  As you leave MMI and set off to discover more of yourself– your interests, your passions. –Take notes.

Do your Soul search by crafting your ideal vision. Write about what you’d love to do, your unique gifts and talents, the way you want to make a difference, who you enjoy being around/working with and always include that you make a good income.

Everything is possible.

I encourage you to write it down this summer, and write it in the present tense as if it’s already happening. Include the accolades that will make you most proud.

Then Research. I know it’s probably a dreaded word, but it can be fun when you’re following your passion… like an assignment from a class you actually love. Look for and introduce yourself to people in the careers you’d like to have. They may even be fellow MMI alums.  Ask them how they got to where they are today, what it takes to be successful, and what they would recommend for someone determined to get into their field.

Listen & learn. Understand if it’s truly what you want to do. And remember Research can reveal what you don’t want as much as what you do.Your vision coupled with Research then becomes your compass for selecting the right college major and applying for the right internships -all setting you on the right path to following YOUR passions.

If I had written down one of my favorite MMI activities, it would have been Mrs. Titus’ introduction to archetypes.  The class introduced me to Carl Jung psychology and human behavior.  – All of which are very relevant to the work I do today.  I’ve even done (and LOVED) graduate work in organizational psychology b/c that same drive and passion still hold true today.  

Every one of you will find the same connection back to what you loved doing here at MMI.  Write it down now.  Start to understand now what really drives you.    

Listen to your hearts and trust yourselves to know best what you need to do to be happy and successful. As they say – “The only success in life is being able to live in your own way.”

Ok, so you now have your final assignment, but it could end up being your most important one. Besides you’ve already made it through what may prove to be the toughest academic challenges of your life. This will be easy! 😉

Enjoy this moment & celebrate all the people who’ve helped you get here from your parents to the faculty & administrators to each other. What a supreme accomplishment on your resume to be a graduate of MMI.

Having lived in New York City for over a decade, I’ve heard the song New York, New York many times.  I even sang it in my own cabaret show off Broadway called Follow Your Dreams.

Frank Sinatra was right. If you can make it there, you can make it anyway.  And I’ve made it in NYC.  But I made it there b/c I made it here first…I would add that if you make it here at MMI, you REALLY CAN make it ANYWHERE!

Congratulations and best of luck Class of 2012!

What do you wish you’d known then that you know now?  Share your best career advice with the class of 2012 below…

(Photos courtesy of photographer Craig Zabransky.)

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