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It’s ok to dream: President Gee addresses graduates beginning next phase in life

(Exclusive to The Daily Athenaeum, December 4, 2014.)

It has been a while since I was a senior in college, but I can still remember very well the thoughts I had and emotions I felt some 46 years ago.

I remember feeling that I was ready for the next step, which for me was obtaining a graduate degree. I was excited, but also nervous. I wondered whether it was the right decision for me. Despite my nerves, I knew deep down that I chose correctly. After all, I loved learning. I still do — and that is why I continue to serve at great universities such as this one.

Whether you are continuing your education or starting your new career, preparing for that next phase in life is important. And for our seniors who are about to graduate this month, I would like to share four life lessons I learned along the way.

First, it is never too early to start thinking about where you want to be in 10 years. More importantly, it is OK to dream – and dream BIG! Your education at West Virginia University will propel you to do amazing things — and I know you will. Set strong career and personal goals for yourself. In fact, I carry a card with my goals with me every day. It keeps me motivated and focused. Think about what you want to do in life and what impact you want to make. Then craft a plan and go after it.

Second, when you think of a crazy idea, write it down. I write all of my ideas and thoughts down. And after you write it down, take a chance. That invention or thought in your head could change your life or the lives of others. Take the lessons you learned in the classrooms and then create outside of them. In the end, your ideas and how you implement will affect our world in the most positive way.

Third, when preparing for a job interview, remember to dress professionally. First impressions are important. Add a bit of personality to your professional style. You do not have to wear a bow tie – even though it has worked for me all these years. But all joking aside, it is important for future employers to get a sense of the real you. And remember to spend some time thinking about who you are. Be ready to describe three unique qualities about yourself — those qualities that truly make you an individual. Present yourself with pride and passion.

And finally, no matter where you are in your career or your path in life, stay true to yourself. Never waver from your core beliefs. Eventually, you will come to a fork in the road. When that happens, trust yourself. Follow your instincts. Make a decision of which you will be proud.

The next few weeks will be very busy. You may never remember your last exam or the last sentence you studied. But I guarantee will always cherish the memories and the friendships you have made during this wonderful time in your life. Your last days in college may feel a bit like your first — a wonderfully odd concoction of nervousness and excitement — as it should be. It has indeed been a beautiful journey.

As you move on, always remember that you have a home here at West Virginia University. We look forward to you visiting us often. Now, go out there and change the world.