Musings + Essays

To the Graduates.

By: Jen Shoop

Our flight home from my sister’s wedding celebration in the Boston area was canceled this past Sunday. Because Boston is dense with colleges and so many of them happened to have their graduations that same weekend, all of the airlines were fully committed for the rest of the day, and hotels would have been difficult to come by, too. We ended up taking a 7 hour Acela from South Station to Union Station. It wasn’t the worst of things — travel by train is simple and unfussy and I vastly prefer it to air — but it was a long day. Sandwiched between stretches of reading my latest thriller (strongly enjoying) and playing rounds of Jaipur with Mr. Magpie (strongly recommend – a great two-player game of strategy and chance), I consumed a lot of social media and some Kardashians, too. (Why is Travis Barker so fascinating to me?). One video that stood out to me was Adam Sandler’s commencement address to the graduating class of NYU Tisch from just a few days ago. In it, he encourages the graduates to embrace their identities as creatives and also to cling to the relationships built during their formative college years. There is no overarching thesis, but rather, a number of small observations and entreaties, which is, I think the humblest and most stirring kind of advice because isn’t life that way? Splintering in different directions and glinting with small gems of insight? I think this is why the Desiderata remains, to me, the most beautifully formed treatise of advice, and perfect for a commencement.

So, borrowing that format, I’m offering a couple of things I have learned the long and hard way that I would tell my graduating self:

Try new things. Especially in your 20s. Don’t get too caught up in a master plan — your 20s are a perfect time to explore.

Call your parents.

Be gentle with others and, importantly, with yourself.

Strive not to be the most intelligent person in the room.

Don’t be afraid of squiggly paths. Many successful people wander a wide walkabout before pointing themselves in a more permanent direction.

Ask questions more than you posit opinions.

Seek advice from multiple parties, then sit down and look for the overlaps. And sometimes, reject all of the advice and do what feels right.

Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.

There will be years that ask and years that answer — just know that answers do eventually come.

Invest in the people who fill your cup. Set careful boundaries with those who do not.

Read diversely, and read for fun.

Most of the time, people care far less than you think they do about what you’re doing. I don’t mean this to be cruel, but to afford you the latitude to not be quite as self-conscious.

Days can be measured by degree of presence and productivity. There will be times where you will need to grind. There will also be times where you need to prioritize presence.

All salaries are negotiable. Asking for more is neither greedy nor ungrateful.

Few things, actually, are nonnegotiable — it’s always worth inquiring after something you want.

Ask for feedback.

Set clear parameters around your work relationships. Those are tricky friendships — proceed with caution.

Work on your communication skills — written and spoken.

The next best thing to a “yes” is a quick “no.” Slow maybes will kill you. Work to get to an answer.

Volunteer to take on work that your boss needs done.

If you must participate in a contentious conversation at work, sit on the same side of the table, or even on the same couch, as the other party. This often diffuses the intensity.

Do not burn bridges. No matter how tempting, leave a job on a high note. You will be asked why you are leaving. Never use this as an occasion to air grievances or let someone know how you really feel. You will regret it.

If you feel small or intimidated in a work setting, physically take up more space — shoulders back, papers spread in front of you.

Remember that you are inherently creative. Lean into creativity. Afford yourself space to explore, tinker.

Trust yourself.

Growth is rarely comfortable — lean into the discomfort.

What would you add?


+Things that mattered to me at 18 (almost none of which matters to me now).

+Things to say yes to.

+To my fellow woolgatherers.

+What would you study if you were going back to school tomorrow?

Shopping Break.

+Serena and Lily is offering an extra 20% off already discounted items, including this chic scalloped raffia side table, everyone’s favorite storage baskets, and this adorable lamp. I think I am going to order this bolster pillow for micro’s room. And I’m tempted by these beach chairs for our summer trip!

+I updated this Memorial Day sale post to include some truly incredible sale finds at Little English.

+Just ordered myself a belt bag for our new Monday morning hiking habit.

+Love these gauze pants from J. Crew’s new arrivals.

+Such a fun pareo! (And only $22!)

+I am hearing good things about Giorgio Armani’s new foundation! Has anyone tried?

+Ordered these fun platform fisherman sandals.

+An attractive laundry basket.

+These children’s sheets are SO cute, under $20, and come in a toddler bed size (as well as twin, queen, etc)!

+These woven sandals are so chic! Similar in style to Hermes Orans but with a woven texture (and a fraction of the price!).

+Drawn to this knit dress. Not even usually my style but I’m into it!

+This bunkbed from Target is so cute and so well-priced!

+Fun summer Gucci statement bag.

+Stocking up on some gear for the summer ahead, and got my children these gliders, some bunch o’ balloons, and bubble wands.

+More great outdoor gear for good times here.

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10 thoughts on “To the Graduates.

  1. So many good pearls of wisdom here! I was nodding right along as I read your list.

    I know that Acela all too well (though I’ve actually only taken it all the way to DC once, in a snowstorm (!) when my flight was cancelled) — 7 hours *is* a bit of a slog, especially when it’s supposed to be the “fast” option, but it sounds like you made the most of it!


  2. I love all of these, especially the point about creativity. It’s amazing how much creativity is in everyone, but how the world can beat it out/make people think creativity is much smaller, like being artistic or dramatic. Creativity is huge and applicable to anything, imo (my younger self was so desperate to lean into the creativity I was told I was blessed with that I deliberately pursued a creative path, and I don’t regret it exactly, but I’m sad that I didn’t acknowledge how good I was at science and maths and that that, too, was something to be proud of).

    I bought an older version of those Sam Edelman sandals in Hawaii back in 2019 (aka the last time I travelled internationally!), wear them almost every day in summer, and they have held up beautifully.

    Hope the wedding was wonderful.

    1. Good to know!! Very chic sandals!

      I so agree with you re: creativity. And I also sometimes wonder what would have happened if my skills in math/science were more encouraged, but…it’s led me here so hard to imagine a different way.


  3. To the extent not covered above, I would add the best advice I received was to call my ‘faraway friends’ often – while commuting, in the 10 min drive to the gym, as i wander in the grocery store. These short connections keep you current with the faraway friends and avoids what ultimately becomes a big thing for adults – scheduling time to sit down on the phone for hours to catch up with a friend. That’s great too, but in my experience it allows friends to unintentionally let too much time pass while waiting for schedules to align. The quick check-ins knit friends together, even far away. [as an aside, i find this to be particularly true as a mom]

    The best career advice I ever received was from a group of moms at work. They told me that my job as a busy professional with young children was to get through today and show up for work again tomorrow. The act of continuing to show up will carry you through the years, the ones that are high achieving at work and the ones that demand more focus at home. I actually think this is the key to staying in the game, just show up today and then do it again tomorrow.

    1. I love both of these, Elizabeth, especially the habit of calling friends casually to avoid the dread that builds when you know you need to dedicate hours to catching up! I find texts can be helpful, too — just quick pop-ins — and make the phone conversations flow a bit easier / feel less like they need to cover a ton of space. But of course there is just no substitute for a voice chat.


  4. Needed the salary negotiating tip this morning. I just received my annual salary increase but have another job offer in hand…the increase was more than I was expecting, so I feel “greedy” asking for my current company to bump my pay even more to get closer to the other offer. My heart jumps into my throat when I think about asking for more, but I know I should. Thank you for the reminder, and for all of these great musings.

    1. You got this!!! We are rooting for you. You are absolutely right to negotiate. The worst they can say is “No.” But then you’ve asked! You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, etc. I always worried my boss / HR people would think less of me for asking but that never happened, and I had the opportunity to negotiate at least four times that I can remember. Conversely, when I was in the position of hiring people and determining salaries, I felt more often than not impressed when people asked for more, especially when they could say something like you can: “I’ve been offered X here” or “I know the going rate / benchmark for my position is Y.” I think it shows self-advocacy and seriousness.


  5. Oh how I love your musings so much!! What wonderful tips for grads and non grads (like me!!) I still am working on many of those!! This one especially 😉
    Ask questions more than you posit opinions.

    I finished The Paris Apartment recently and LOVED it so much! I read The GUest List after by the same author, but The Paris Apartment still wins out for me

    Just got my lulu belt bag in a light blue/silver with extended strap and absolutely ADORE it, you will too!! THe only thing is it is a bit “odd” to get to things, make sure you secure items in there as I feel they could easily fall out (if open) LIke secure your wallet or keys in there 🙂
    Thank you for these beautiful musings, you make my morning coffee time SO SPECIAL!!

    1. Thank you! First, for being here and inviting me into your daily routine, and second for the input on the Lulu bag! That is odd, but I’m sure I’ll get the hang.

      Thanks, Diana!


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