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Romer: Unsolicited advice for graduates

My favorite column every year is the annual opportunity to share advice with our graduates. This isn’t a “first day of the rest of your lives” message as much as it is a gentle reminder of items that I find important to consider for people of any age as our graduates embark on their new journeys and look ahead to the future.

There was an amazing moment in this year’s NCAA national championship basketball game that wasn’t really talked about. But I think it should have been.

With less than a minute to go, with the game result yet to be determined, North Carolina’s Armando Bacot rolled his already injured ankle, lost the ball, turned it over to Kansas, fell to the floor, got back up, and began hopping on one foot to try to catch up to help his team. The commentator said that “Kansas should attack,” and that “you have to punish people when you get that opportunity.”



Kansas could have. With a five-on-four advantage, it would’ve been easy enough to hit the open man for an easy shot, and essentially win the game at that moment. But in a lesson in leadership and ethics, that’s not what the Kansas Jayhawks did.

They stopped, settled the ball, and waited for the referee to blow his whistle for an injury timeout to give North Carolina a chance to replace their injured player and get back to five-on-five basketball.



For every young player in any sport in any game — big or small — and for every sideline parent or coach who wants to see their kid step up on a podium and lift a big trophy, remember this moment.

The lesson for our graduates: No, you should not attack when others are at a moment of weakness. That is not a time to punish people. This is when you show your character and what you’re really made of.

Now, for some quick pieces of advice:

  • Be thoughtful and pragmatic in all that you do. You’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd.
  • Things never end up as good as you hope, but they never turn out as bad as you feared, either.
  • It is better to fail at something than to regret never trying.
  • No one is responsible for your happiness but you.
  • If all your relationships have the same problems … maybe you’re the problem.
  • You’re going to struggle. Don’t quit. Don’t give up.
  • You are free to make choices, but you are never free from the consequences of those choices.
  • Your lack of confidence holds you back as a leader. You’re so worried about making people feel “comfortable” that you don’t tell the truth and engage in the conversations you need to have.
  • Great leaders inspire, coach and cultivate a recognition culture. However, leaders balance that with being assertive when needed, loving people enough to tell them the truth, and holding people accountable.
  • Listening is a sign of respect.
  • You cannot raise your voice by silencing others.
  • Resiliency is a mindset.
  • Learn to navigate difficult conversations.
  • Don’t live your life in fear. Share the positives about your position rather than simply knocking down others.
  • Being “liked” isn’t always possible at every moment. You owe it to yourself (and to others) to be uncomfortable when necessary.
  • The world is changing. Always will be. The key to success is accepting this and not clinging to the past.
  • And maybe most importantly, you will never regret choosing kindness.

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