My College Commencement Address to the Class of 2017

Class of 2017

Last week, I delivered my graduation speech to the graduating high school class of 2017, in Why Millennials Have College All Wrong. If you are a parent of a Generation Z child (thank you David @ Young Adult Money) that will be attending college in the near future, you still have time to save money on college without maximizing your 529 plan or crossing your fingers for a scholarship.

This week is my college commencement address to the graduating class of 2017. As they prepare to “finally” enter adulthood and work for a living. These are some financial & professional tips I can provide being a somewhat recent graduate myself. Please excuse the sarcasm.

To the Graduating Class of 2017:

First of all, congratulations. You have just proven to your parents and all of us with “real” jobs that you can finally put on your resume the ability to accomplish long-term goals. This last statement might have a little stinging callousness to it because it’s what a fellow co-worker told me during my first days at my first job. Two months after I walked I received my diploma. Just as you will do yourself in a few minutes.

I’m not here to tell you that life will be rosy because you have a degree or you will live in a cardboard box because you majored in the liberal arts like I did. (Crowds chuckles with laughter).

No, I’m here to tell you more than you might have learned about life in the past 4 or 5 years writing research papers and attending Saturday football games. In fact, I hope your alumni association sends you all a  transcript of this speech so you can read it again after your eyes are dazzled with receiving your first four-figure paycheck. And you will get two of those for the rest of your working career by the way.

Student Loan Debt for 2017

How many of you know that you just helped set a new record? You are the most indebted graduating college class ever with an average student loan debt of $38,000. For the 18th consecutive year, the average balance has increased and the total student loan debt for all existing student loans is $1.3 trillion.

You know what that means.

You will be the student loan providers best friend for the next 10 years. (More chuckles from the crowd…)

Let me give you a piece of advice. I graduated with $50,000 in student loans and paid it off in 3 years. Make extra loan payments as much as possible. My goal was to make an extra payment each month. For example, if your minimum monthly payment is $400, try to pay $800 a month. Or, as much as financially feasible. It’s a steep sacrifice, but, the long-term rewards are worth it.

Especially if you can’t wait to quit your job because you can afford to say “I quit!” since you have no debt! I did it & you can too.

Lifestyle Inflation

Since your school will be kind enough to distribute a copy of this speech online, read it after you get your first paycheck. You will have a better understanding of what I’m about to say.

You might earn as much in two weeks as you earned in an entire semester. You are going to think you can afford Ferrari, a mansion large enough to make Mark Zuckerburg jealous, and fly across the world first-class all at the same time. That’s not true.

You are about to discover bills & taxes. And I’m not talking about the $5 you paid to get a burrito and Mountain Dew from the Taco Bell drive-thru. These are the taxes that got Al Capone locked up & bills that will shut off your electricity or tow away your car if you quit making payments.

It’s okay to enjoy life, it’s one reason we work to earn a disposable income. Just remember these tips:

  • Save for large purchases (don’t borrow because interest payments are like vacuums…they suck)
  • Wait 24 or 48 hours to avoid expensive impulse purchases
  • Use your extra income to invest, repay student loans, or save for a house down payment. Anything can make you richer in the future.

Emergency Fund

Onto my second point. Most Americans can’t even afford a $500 emergency. Instead of buying a flatscreen tv with your first paycheck, put that money into an emergency fund instead. Keep adding a small amount each month until you have 6 months of living expenses in a high-yield savings account. You’ll be happy you did as the “bank of mom & dad” might not be open 24/7 like it is right now.

You will have good days & bad days ahead of you. It’s okay to have some fun. Go see the world, run Ironman marathons, or whatever else floats your boat. Just make sure you plan ahead for these expeditions and make sure your regular bills are paid for.

Putting money in the bank might be boring, but it’s a certain way to help make you financially successful if you save early and save often. Also, don’t forget to invest your wealth as well. I like index funds & dividend paying blue chip stocks personally.


Finally, my third and final point. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking.  Keep in touch with your classmates & make friends at work. Relationships might seem time-consuming but they are mutually rewarding. As you will find out, it’s sometimes who you know instead of what you know to land that promotion, seal the deal with a prospective client, and even find a new job.

Find a mentor, be a team player, and don’t be afraid to pursue your dreams. If you wait for opportunities to happen, they will pass you by more often than not.

I’m speaking here from personal experience. I didn’t emphasize networking, even though many experienced people around me kept repeating that one word. Network, network, network.

Don’t do it purely for self-gain. Each person you build a relationship with can make you a better person. And, you might just make a friend for life. You never knew what doors will open in the future, so don’t close any now.

Closing Remarks

By the looks in your eyes, I can tell you are ready to close this chapter of life. I get it, I was there myself a few years ago. If you don’t remember anything else about college, remember this.

These past four years might be the most influential years in ways you cannot imagine.

Your roommate might invent the next Facebook or Amazon one day and want you to join the team (networking). And having lived on Ramen Noodles & dollar store specials, you know what it’s like to live on a budget. Keep your lifestyle inflation in check and plan for the future as if you are still on a college student’s budget. You’ll never have to live paycheck to paycheck again.

Thank you!

(Loud applause from the crowd and a standing ovation).






About the Author

I'm a personal freelance writer.

14 Comments on "My College Commencement Address to the Class of 2017"

  1. Great speech! I like that you added networking into this. While not every job will be found through networking, there is a lot of upside to networking.

    • Networking hasn’t helped me find every job either, but, it did allow me to change careers this most recent time. If it wasn’t for knowing people back home outside of work, I would have still been doing what I did for the first 7 years after college.

  2. Excellent!! Love your advice about putting your first paycheck into an emergency fund. If they don’t do anything else, at least do that. Have something – anything – saved. So many people poo-poo savings these days. 🙁

    • Thank you, Laurie! I saw several of my co-workers that I started with go crazy with lifestyle inflation. Then the Great Recession hit shortly after we all started working. That changed a lot of our mindsets for “living for today.”

  3. I’m standing up and cheering!!! I definitely agree about networking and lifestyle inflation are some of the biggest keys. I would not be in the position I am today without my network, specifically a friend outside of work and a friend I met inside work. They were crucial to my development and really helped me along the way.

    On top of that while I graduated from Ramen noodles I didn’t go that much past it and was able to keep my expenses low in order to crush the debt around me.

    These are definitely two keys of success for me 🙂

    • I lived very meagerly too for the first few years. Then I got promoted to a traveling job and ate at least 2 meals a day at restaurants. Thankfully I met my wife & she cooks at home (and I changed careers). We eat good meals for cheaper than when I was eating by myself.

  4. I was JUST thinking about lifestyle inflation this weekend. My brother just moved into a house that is 2x the size of his previous one. Probably 2x the cost too. I don’t know that it’s a problem for him, but it’s a good example of lifestyle inflation. Now they’ll embark on furnishing this new larger place, have higher utility bills, higher maintenance costs, etc.

    It’s fine if it is worked into a larger master plan. But a lot of people let lifestyle inflation derail their bigger financial goals. Need to be aware and careful for sure.

    • We found ourselves buying furniture to fill our first house as a married couple. Previously, we each had one bedroom worth of stuff. Too many people don’t fully take into account how much more the ongoing costs are for more expensive items such as bigger houses or European cars (although I would love to own a BMW or Mercedes at least once too).

  5. “Keep your lifestyle inflation in check and plan for the future as if you are still on a college student’s budget.” That is the best advice for any college or university grad: Keep living like a student! It is advice I gave to my daughter, and her frugal living allowed her to quit her job three years later and go back to school – as you did : ) The freedom to choose is a wonderful gift to give your future self.

    • It’s great to hear others having the same idea. Many people say they want to continue living like a student, but, it’s easier said than done. Congrats to your daughter.

  6. Troy @ Market History | May 25, 2017 at 1:41 am | Reply

    That’s a great speech. Full of practical advice and tips. I don’t like those speeches where they say “everything’s going to be great, you’ll all be rockstars one day, pat yourself on the back”.

    • Thank you, Troy. I really don’t remember what my graduation speech (I just wanted to get the diploma and get in the car) but there wasn’t too much quixotic material.

  7. Considering I’m a recent layoff victim, I couldn’t agree more on the networking advice. It’s a personal challenge that I still struggle with. But this job search I’ve finally gotten disciplined about it. Now that I’ve contacted every single person I’m connected to on LinkedIn, I’m using my to-do app to remind me to contact people. Everyone in my network has a separate task that repeats every month/quarter/year as appropriate, and I reach out to them when their task pops up on my list.

    No more good intentions and poor execution!

    • We have a family friend that got laid off last month too is pounding the pavement and checking his contact list for leads. I truly hope you can find something soon! Being out of work (or underemployed) isn’t fun as I can attest to as well.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.