What I’d Tell My Younger Self at Graduation

Trust the process and go after your dreams

Northern Arizona University
7 min readDec 13, 2022

It’s time to don those caps and gowns and declare your diploma. In some ways, the hard work is behind you. And in many other ways, the hard work begins now.

With Commencement right around the corner, NAU staff and faculty reflect on what they wish they knew at their own college graduation.

Holland Fields | Student Development Coordinator, Senior

My advice to my younger self is trust the process! Your life will unfold in ways you never thought possible.

Nothing is a waste and from the wise words of Patrice Gordon:“What is meant for you will not miss you!”

Michelle Gardner, M.Ed ’08 | Director, Office of Leadership & Engagement

When I graduated from NAU in 2008, I didn’t realize how much free time I would have outside of work because I no longer had homework or club meetings.

Filling this time with healthy, fulfilling activities is key to enjoying your life.

This gives you things to look forward to outside of your job, and is space to build relationships, and discover hobbies. For me, I dove into hiking, reading, family time, and being outdoors. Filling this time also ensures you get away from your desk, and enjoy your life!

Salvador Lopez, M.Ed. | Interim Manager, Student Leadership & Engagement

Sigue Echándole Ganas — No pares!

Experiencing college was fun and stressful at the same time. Yes, meeting new people and attending events happening throughout the year was amusing. However, completing assignments, attending class, and studying for exams were significant steps you took to achieve academic success and set a secure path for your ultimate career.

You are unique and know yourself better than anyone else; you found a way to balance it all. In the end, it was all worth it.

Katherine Lawlor, M.Ed., M.S. | Transfer Jacks Coordinator | Transfer and Online Connections | Tri-Alpha Honor Society Advisor | Tau Sigma Honor Society Advisor

I’d tell my younger self to be proud of who you are becoming, stick to your values, appreciate the moment, and learn how to not be hard on yourself.

Life can start to feel more lonely after graduation and it can be harder to make friends, so begin to appreciate the acquaintances in your life. You will still have to motivate yourself to get out of the house to meet new people, which is why finding new hobbies that bring you joy will be important.

Do not lose your passion to make an impact on this world and leave a positive legacy.

Advocate, listen, show empathy, give back to your local community, support college students when you can by providing them with opportunities, and continue taking risks.

Since I was 18 years old, I’ve lived in 4 states, 7 towns/cities, and 15 different apartments because I believe in myself enough to try and pursue my goals even when it feels impossible as I certainly do not have unlimited financial support.

As a first-generation, Pell eligible, transfer, and student with a disability, I’m proud of your accomplishments and I hope you are proud of yourselves as well. It took me 7 years from start to finish with my undergraduate degree, and some of you have similar journeys — we made it!

P.S. It’s possible to fundraise to support your adventures. I went on short-term, community service trips to Costa Rica (2016), Turkey (2018), and the country of Georgia (2019) after graduation because of generous donors, so if you missed having an opportunity to study cultures abroad, then it can still be a goal after graduation.

Maria DeCabooter | Assistant Director, NAU Social

I would tell my younger self to be confident in myself and my abilities and to not be afraid to put myself out there.

Too many times, younger me shied away from doing things because I let my anxiety and introversion get in the way.

Whether that was not auditioning for a role, not applying for a job because I didn’t think I met all the qualifications or not attending a networking event because of my fear of small talk.

All of my insecurities held me back from new opportunities.

So I would tell senior Maria that yes, small talk will never be fun and you’ll always feel awkward trying to “sell yourself” with your 5-minute elevator pitch. However, you should still go and see what happens.

Show up and give things a chance. You never know who you might strike up a conversation with, what connections you might make and what opportunities might come about because you said yes.

Give yourself an opportunity to be in the room, be at the table. You can always excuse yourself later — but you might not always be able to get that invite again.

Darvin Descheny | Social Media Coordinator

Darvin, your curiosity will never run dry. Your curiosity will take you on the wildest adventures, beyond anything you could possibly imagine. You may not travel far, but trust me, the adventures you find will be life-changing.

Continue to be curious and daring, especially when it comes to your artistic endeavors. When things get hard, never forget to turn to your friends and family, they love you unconditionally. Be safe in this world, as you never know what comes next.

Continue to dream, hope, and work hard. As your dad has been saying to you since you were a toddler, money and success reside within your fingertips.

Congratulations, on all of your past and future accomplishments.

Janice Sweeter, Ph.D. | Associate Director, School of Communication
Associate Professor of Practice, School of Communication

Share your gifts. Jump in with your whole heart and believe you will land in the perfect place.

Michelle Barichello | Social Media Manager

First, believe in yourself. There are people out there who are less talented than you but who have gotten farther because they didn’t let doubt keep them from trying.

Don’t brush off your accomplishments, but be proud of them. Learn to think and speak highly of yourself.

Secondly, your network can lead you to amazing places. Say yes to all those invites and awkwardly introduce yourself to as many people as you can. Nurture those connections in a genuine way, and look to your network when you’re looking for something new. Some of the coolest projects I’ve worked on have come from a friend of a friend of a friend.

Finally, set a vision for where you want to go and work backwards. What qualifications are listed in your dream job description? What skills should you look to build in entry-level positions? Don’t settle for something that doesn’t help you get to your vision.

Also, allow yourself to be flexible on your vision. Sometimes what our twenty-year-old self imagined doesn’t match up with what our thirty- or forty-year-old self desires. Adapt your plan accordingly.

Nick Smallwood | Videographer, NAU-TV

Nick’s “Words of Wisdom:”

While it might sound cliché, always believe in yourself. Know your own worth and never underestimate that. If there is something you want to do or achieve, put in the effort and see it through.

Cherish the relationships that you have as if they were gold, and never forget the people who helped you along the way.

Congratulations to our Winter 2022 graduates! Way to go, Jacks!



Northern Arizona University

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