Open letter to the newly graduated

Some advice to graduates to help you navigate the real world.

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Congratulations! Even if you are tired of hearing it, you deserve all the praise and accolades. Whether you are graduating from high school or college, this is an important milestone in your young adult life. And although it may seem not much has changed, trust me, it will, or rather, you will. In a thematic fashion, graduating usually means losing friends, losing guidance, and re-evaluations. And while you might be currently worrying about how you will “secure the bag” or how you will maintain a job and still work for yourself, I implore you to first bask in the moment. Enjoy those cookouts and graduation parties, re-establish your faith in your relatives and your longstanding friends. If you are willing to work, everything will work itself out, I believe in all of you. With that said, as I always like to say, it is better to be aware. Be aware of your position in your local community, as well as within the larger context. Be aware of the competition you just stepped into.

Here’s a fun exercise: Google the current generations that are presently living and analyze their impacts on your life and your community. And of course, pay attention to current events and the state of things that interest you. And lastly, be aware of your investments; not just financially, but also your time and effort.

Passion is great, passion will keep you going, even when none of it makes sense anymore. But I will suggest that if you want to get the most out of life with less stress; live in the intersection where passion, opportunity, and reasoned-out maneuvers meet. I’m not here to lecture you, I’m certain you’re tired of that. But I did want to share some insight that school never touched on for me, and I went to some “uncommon” and unconventional schools. The two areas I will briefly write on are the importance and the inescapable web of credit, and why you should take managing student loans seriously. Let’s begin.

Uncommon Success: DePauw University, Class of 2015. Photo/Izzy Okunlola


Unless you graduated as an economics major or took financial literacy and actually paid attention, this section is very much for you. To begin, find out your credit score. Like the commercials say, don’t wait until it comes into question before you seek it out. There are plenty of free sites that can help you with this. If you have blemishes on your credit, from heavens-know-what, pinpoint what can be salvaged in a relatively short period of time and create a plan that addresses those blemishes. More importantly, make a plan that you will be comfortable abiding by.

Secondly, you may have the urge to run up your credit thinking “you are young and have time to pay it off;” resist that urge. To be clear, I am not condemning building credit, I would actually encourage it, but it must be done responsibly. Think of it as if you’re just turning 21; you can now legally destroy your liver with ethanol, but it must be done responsibly, because you know, you might die. Same thing with taking on credit; you are welcome to build credit, but responsibly, because you know, you can really tear up that “American Dream” picture of your life that you have in your head. Responsible credit building means being aware of the contracts that you are putting yourself into. If the percentages and numbers confuse you, ask someone you trust and who is knowledgeable on the subject.

In the long run, credit is an inescapable web that determines where society will meet you. Unless you are fortunate to have competent and financially-supporting parents, think of credit the same way you think about trust; easy to break, hard to rebuild; because essentially, it is just that. It will eventually determine if you deserve a house, how big the house is, as well as if you deserve a car, and how fancy that car can be. In summation, unless you happen to come by a large sum of cash or charity, keep an eye on that credit and become fluent in managing its ups and downs.

Student Loans

Whether you are graduating from high school or graduating from college, student debt should be in the back of your mind. Unless you are stopping at a high school diploma (weird, that people stop at high school diplomas in today’s age), it is almost guaranteed that student debt will follow you. If you are graduating from high school, I’m sure you’ve heard somewhere that “the money shouldn’t matter” more than attending college. Well, it sort of does, especially for low-income families. You don’t want to settle for a place that you know you’ll be miserable at for four years, but you also shouldn’t take on debts that are not worthwhile. The underlying basis of college, for you – the student – is an investment. And in any investment, the costs are always validated by the returns. And as a high school graduate, that’s what you should be thinking about when you are in the same room with these admission officers and financial aid advisors. Scholarships and grants are saviors, and again, the cost for that “free” money is your time and effort.

For my college graduates, it’s more than likely that you are stepping off that campus with debt. Unless you have been on top of your game in repaying back loans while you were tackling coursework, eliminating this debt should be a top priority for you. Yes, the economy isn’t what it used to be, but there are responsible actions you can take to reduce this debt over the course of your 20s. First and foremost, most colleges have a “student loan advisor,” find yours and become best-friends with that person. That means not avoiding their calls, and heeding to their advice (get a second opinion if you feel uneasy; those never hurt). And for heaven’s sake, I hope your loans are federal and not private. Because at least with federal loans, you are guaranteed a reasonable low-interest rate (well, actually that might be changing soon) and there are systems in place where you can get some percentages of your loan(s) forgiven. When it comes to loan-management after college, the only wrong course of action is ignoring your payments, and putting all of it aside. In sum, most agencies are willing to work with you and there is more help out there than you think.

If you haven’t realized, you already losing money and you are already in a position to build your capital. But it is with great sincerity when I tell you that life is not simply about acquiring capital. It’s not just the accolades and making parents proud. It’s not just the individual benchmarks that society has pre-determined to create your happiness. Life is ours to live. Regardless of your luck, your resources, or your position, do yourself some favors and venture out to make your eyes bigger than the world. In doing so, who knows, you may be inspired to solve some of its problems. Happy Summer Solstice.

Bare Attention Series by Izzy Okunlola

Izzy Okunlola is a Nigerian native who grew up in Providence, RI. He is a 2015 graduate of DePauw University and former youth organizer for Granite State Organizing Projectin Manchester, NH. He is a bit of an introvert and a philosopher, but also loves to travel, enjoys photography, and appreciates all forms of art. He has been described as a young “renaissance” man, plagued by a compulsive obsession with time and food. You can reach him

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