Graduations are bittersweet.

Much like the beginning of the new year in January, it is a time to look back in reflection and ahead with anticipation. There is one thing graduates can count on, and that is receiving all kinds of advice about what lies ahead for them on their life journey.

As our daughter began that transition from home to the big world of independence, she received some advice from a family member in the form of a list of suggestions to keep in mind. He called it a list of very basic things she probably already knew, but he wanted to be sure to reinforce them to her as his participation in the advice department.

I believe this is worth sharing, not only with graduates but also for all of us who may benefit from these words of wisdom that continue to resonate 27 years later.

I am sure going off to college can be hard on people, parents especially. But it is hard on you, too. So, keep a few suggestions in mind. (mostly things you already know!)

1. Be suspicious of anything you don’t fully understand. This applies no matter what the subject ... your common sense is saying be careful.

2. Be dependable.

3. Be aware of what is happening around you at all times, in all places.

4. Establish your definition of “ethical behavior,” and be true to that definition, whatever it is.

5. Be honest and faithful with yourself in all that you do and think.

6. Be open-minded but do what is right according to your beliefs.

7. Have your own beliefs and stand behind them.

8. Be above reacting in kind to the rude and uncouth.

9. Maintain confidences.

10. Comply with laws and rules.

11. Be big enough to take the blame when it is due.

12. Strive daily for perfection but learn to accept failure, learning from each and every disappointment.

13. Always be there when a friend needs you.

14. Learn from other’s experiences and failures.

15. Be truthful in all that you do and in all that you are, as truthfulness is righteous and good and will be rewarded before lies.

16. Remember your family, for in comparison with all other things only your family has significance.

These suggestions may seem corny and trite, but I sincerely believe a person can go through life with some measure of success by following them as best they can.

You are rapidly approaching what I believe will most likely be the greatest changes you have thus far experienced in your life. Make it successful by remembering that no greater gift exists than the right to choose, the right to make your own decisions, the right to be wrong sometimes and the right to be right others. But at the same time such a right to choose can be such an equalizer demanding that we grow up now. The only thing to do is to do your best, and remember what George Elliot said in his work “Daniel Deronda” in 1874, “The strongest principle of growth lies in human choice.”

The choices are mostly going to be yours, very soon. Make them with care.

Tom Fenley passed away a few months after sharing this letter with our graduating daughter. He was a wise man but missed out on getting to the “old” part. I am forever grateful for his insight, wit and ability to articulate so well advice every young person walking across the graduation stage needs to hear. Good advice for all of us.

Sherry Durham is Head of School for St. Cyprian’s Episcopal School. Her email address is