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Advice to recent graduates

Posted 4:48 PM by

A funny thing happens when you’re 22. You dream big. You work hard. You charge forward. But you are not so sure where you are going. 

At 22, I had just graduated from college and had started teaching Pre-K in an inner city school in Denver. My ambition was to be a great teacher. I thought that would define my success. That was my plan, or so I thought. What I didn’t realize then was, there would be many, many more turns in the road.

I soon figured out that each year brings another set of experiences and growth. And each experience, each opportunity to learn, exponentially broadens the possibilities of who you can be. In reality, it takes a great deal of strength to move past who you are in the moment to who you can be in the future. And often that means just being willing to take a risk and follow your passion. It was taking risks and following my passion for public service that led me from the classroom to community service to government leadership.

It turns out that what I had imagined for myself at age 22 wasn’t exactly the right plan. But looking back, I realize that even though my career plan changed – and more than once -- there was one principle that remained constant through the years, one principle that served me well on my journey: You can’t be afraid. You can’t be afraid of a new experience. You can’t be afraid of a challenge. You can’t be afraid of failure.

At some point in our careers, we all face those moments of deep reflection and decision. I just knew that I had to keep trying new things, that I had to keep moving forward. And I knew that if one turn in the road didn’t work out, at least I would have had an interesting and perhaps valuable experience.

Not that long ago, I had a conversation with my daughter Graciela, who is in her 20s. She asked me: “Don’t I need to start thinking about the future and where I am going with my career?” I told her that perhaps she should be thinking about the next two to three years, not the next 20 or 30. In two or three or five years, everything might be different. Go ahead and make a plan, I told her, just be willing to change it when you need to or want to.

You don’t have to plan the rest of your life at 22. You don’t need to limit yourself. Try new things and don’t be afraid. Like I discovered, you never quite know where your potential, your talent, and most of all, your passion will take you.


Director in the middle of the picture with two teenage girls on either side. Girl on left is holding a phone above them to take a photo.

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