Graduation: a special time when feelings of joy and celebration collide with a healthy dose of sheer terror. All of those hours of hard work have finally paid off in the form of a high school diploma or a university degree . . . but what’s next? How to make it in the real world is a big question with no easy answers. Whether your grad needs some level-headed advice on living well from some of our greatest authors, a few first-job stories or a collection of essays from much-admired leaders, four new books offer plenty of calming wisdom.
Nerves and plenty of other things usually ensure that a graduate will retain little to none of the commencement speech on their big day. Cue Way More than Luck, a collection of 14 of the most inspiring (yet practical!) commencement speeches ever delivered, from influential thinkers and best-selling writers such as Ira Glass, Barbara Kingsolver and David Foster Wallace. Instead of a bunch of feel-good platitudes, these speeches plainly address those creeping fears new grads can’t help but harbor, while championing bravery, empathy and other “existential skills” that have become increasingly crucial for Millennials in our still-unstable professional sphere.
FINDING YOUR FIELD
All of the exams, the hours spent sitting (or sleeping) during class lectures, and the ink and tears spilled over term papers can only prepare a young graduate so much for the lurking inevitable: their first job. Thankfully, journalist Merritt Watts has collected 50 real stories in First Jobs to brace any grad for their dive into the workforce. From pet gravediggers to bar-backs to carnies, these stories are often hilarious enough to drive the jitters away. A short note on the story’s narrator closes each story, and spoiler alert: All of those profiled here are doing just fine.
Ever wonder about Warren Buffett’s early jobs and setbacks? How about Anderson Cooper’s or Hans Zimmer’s? Gillian Zoe Segal has collected 30 essays from a diverse group of today’s leaders and innovators in Getting There: A Book of Mentors, and they don’t shy away from the gritty truths. Buffett would “literally throw up” if he had to speak in front of a group of people until he forced himself through a public-speaking course; fashion maven Rachel Zoe was the scapegoat for her sticky-fingered boss; and Matthew Weiner (the Emmy Award-winning creator of “Mad Men”) waded through seven years of brutal rejection before his script made it onto the screen. Capping off each essay are bulleted lists of “Pearls,” and these bits of wisdom beg to be taken to heart.
A BIT OF MAGIC
If there’s any writer who has served as an influence on today’s graduating Millennials, it’s J.K. Rowling. And with more than 450 million copies of her Harry Potter books sold worldwide, it’s safe to say Rowling knows a bit about success. But in Very Good Lives, her Harvard commencement speech from 2008, she chooses to address the subjects of failure and imagination. Rowling’s experience at rock bottom as “the biggest failure [she] knew” pushed her to pour all of her energy into her biggest passion—writing. But imagination is just as important for living well, and not only for creative professionals, as it allows us “to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”
Re-readability and engaging illustrations from Joel Holland make this a perfect gift, and as a feel-good bonus, proceeds from the sale of Very Good Lives will be donated to Rowling’s international children’s charity.
This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.