Things I wish someone had told me at commencement

Columnist Lorraine V. Murray’s recent books include two laugh-out-loud mysteries, “Death in the Choir” and “Death of a Liturgist,” plus a biography of Flannery O’Connor titled “The Abbess of Andalusia.” All her books are available at Her email is

Many commencement speeches are peppered with cliches that spread a ripple of yawns throughout the crowd. Here’s some advice I wish someone had dished out years ago when it was my turn to teeter across the stage in those treacherously high heels:

First, be deeply grateful for your degree. Someone made big sacrifices to help make it happen. Take the time to write that someone a heartfelt thank-you note.

If that someone was your parents — and they went into debt for you — do everything in your power to settle that debt.

Get two jobs, use the bus, eat peanut butter sandwiches, shop in thrift stores and forgo credit cards. Same advice holds if you’re the one who signed on the dotted line.

And please, don’t sit around waiting for Job Charming to show up. Maybe you can’t find a job that matches your degree and pays handsomely, but that doesn’t give you a free pass to live in your parents’ basement and sponge off them. Get a job and get a life!

Speaking of a life, don’t put off marriage and children until some future time when everything is perfect.

That time will never come because the loose ends of life are never tied up. And as my wise old aunt once said, it’s easier to chase a 2-year-old when you’re 25 than when you’re 35.

My aunt would also tell you that if you lost your faith in college — as many sadly do — it’s not because God is dead but because many professors believe that he is.

So here’s a challenge: Go back to church or synagogue for a year and give your faith a chance to revive. I’m betting you will be much happier by the end of that time. Send me an email and let me know.

Don’t let things control your happiness. If you lose your car, your house and your flat-screen TV, you can still be happy — as long as you don’t define yourself by these things.

Happiness comes from a life that has meaning and purpose. Yes, in some cases, a job can give your life meaning, but not always.

In all cases, use your God-given talents to find activities that make you say each evening, “I wish I had a few more hours.”

Alas, Americans waste about four precious hours a day watching TV. Buck the trend by planting a garden, teaching a child to read, volunteering, taking walks, reading the classics, learning a musical instrument, baking bread or cooking a meal for friends.

On their deathbed, no one ever said, “I wish I’d watched more reality TV.”

Finally, be grateful every day for small things and big things. Small things include the birds you see, a flower blooming, a child’s smile, a good meal, an aqua sky, an evening with friends.

Later in life, you may realize these are also the big things.