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Beyond 'laugh often,' 'live much': Oklahomans offer graduates words of wisdom

If they knew then what they know now, here is what an assortment of Oklahomans would say to today's graduates — or wish they had heard at their own graduation.
COMPILED BY THE OKLAHOMAN FEATURES STAFF Modified: May 18, 2013 at 9:41 pm •  Published: May 20, 2013
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“I'm trying to remember all of the advice that I heard when I was younger. The truth is that I can't remember a single thing that was said to me at a commencement address — including high school, college and medical school graduations. However, looking back, I did receive one piece of advice that gave me the courage to create my path and brought me to where I am today.

“One of my surgery attendings told me to ‘follow my passion.' Many times, we are caught up in trying to move from one step to the next; in the process, we forget why we do what we do — in high school, we work hard to get to college; in college we work hard to get to grad school; in grad school, we work hard to get a job; then we work hard to earn a living. But the most important part is that we love what we do, and that we find a way to do what we love. Once I started doing the things that I loved, my career path and life path fell into place. I may not always be successful, but I don't live my life with regrets, and I always follow my heart.

Scott Kinnaird, dad of a senior graduating this spring from Edmond Memorial High School: Compassion, curiosity among keys to success

“I would offer any graduating senior the same guidance I share with my own children. These three simple concepts can help any person, young or old, prepare for what the world has to offer.

“First, be respectful and compassionate. It starts with your own self, because you're no good to others unless you're good to yourself. You can't control what others give you in return, but at the very least, greeting people from respect and compassion, you'll do no harm. And the majority of people in the world will respond in kind and even be attracted to such a rare quality.

“Secondly, be constructive and productive. Learn quickly how to carry your own weight so you have a better chance of carrying the weight of others. And build something, create something; don't just consume.

“And, finally, stay curious. No one wants to be around a know-it-all jerk. If you stay curious, you'll remain open to new information. Then you won't be imprisoned by your beliefs, you'll be empowered by what's possible.”

David Egan, director of operations for Cattlemen's Steakhouse: Try out different jobs first

“My advice has always been to try a number of different jobs BEFORE going to college or vo-tech. This allows you to get a feel for what type of work seems to fit your style the most. I see countless folks who are not in the industry they spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours getting a degree in. Most of them wish they had found their niche before their investment. The right career is the one that has you whistling all the way to work, and can't imagine how everyone else doesn't love it, too.

Josh Sallee, Oklahoma rapper: ‘You, as a human being, are already original'

“The past year, for me, was filled with an abundance of highs, lows, new experiences, unfamiliar faces, crazy opportunities and, most importantly, progress. From college to relationships to the very thing I've desired to be musically, constant growth has been key.

“We must learn from experiences and mistakes, whether our own or that someone else has made, and figure out the things that really make us tick. That one thing that makes you wake up too early and stay up way too late. That one thing that makes you happier than you could possibly imagine but broken to the point of questioning if it's even right. That one thing that makes you feel perfectly in place, when everything around you couldn't seem more complicated. It's about picking your passions and pursuing them with every last bit of who we are.

“We should never turn away influence in an effort to be ‘original.' You, as a human being, are already original. The things we grew up loving and hating and wanting to be have molded us into the beautifully flawed beings that we are. Find those passions, keep your balance, and give it everything you got without any regards to others critique. Once you let opinion affect your individual creativity, you let them ‘win.'”

Jami Smith, contemporary Christian recording artist, worship leader and Oklahoma native: ‘Be intentional about the life you want'

“As you look with excitement toward your newfound freedom, those closest to you are wondering ‘What will you do with it?' A better question might be, ‘What will it do to you?'

“I hope and pray that parents, teachers and loved ones have been pouring into you. What did you learn? How did you benefit? What's next for you? And how will you carry the best of yourself into this next chapter?

“I don't know if your next chapter is college. I hope it is and I hope you stick with it. But even more than that, I hope you commit yourself to a God that loves you and is calling you to a higher purpose. Seek that purpose. Be intentional. Kevin Durant didn't become a great basketball player by accident. Andrew Luck or Sam Bradford didn't become Number 1 draft picks because they woke up one day wanting it, and Brad Paisley didn't become an amazing guitar player without a lot of sweat. No, they each decided a long time ago to work really hard to be excellent at what they do. And they all work at being the best every day.

“Be intentional about the life you want. Be intentional about your relationship with God. Imitate Jesus Christ. If you don't know anything about Him, seek Him out. Get a Bible. Read the book of John. Learn about Him. Follow Him every day. Every day, for the rest of your life. And then, you will be great.”

Jabee, Oklahoma City hip hop artist: ‘Make sure you have a plan'

“My advice would be not to waste time, get a plan and stick to it. After you graduate, life flies by, so make sure you have a plan set. Watch who you hang around. A lot of people I went to school with are doing the same things they were doing in school.

“The choice you make today will determine where you are in years to come.”

George Earl Johnson Jr., communications professional, public speaker and author: ‘Anchor your character in good'

“In leaving government service after 44 years, I had a commencement exercise, not a retirement party. For to commence, is to begin anew. Your commencement this spring is the next mark on your road map of life's journey.

“The character you're building will tell people what type of person you are becoming — as a friend, co-worker, professional associate and as a leader in your home, church, community and this nation.

“Moral and ethical considerations have been complicated by advances in technologies. The world you are inheriting is a complex global one. What you do or don't do today affects your seven billion brothers and sisters every day, everywhere on Earth.

“Work diligently to make the space you occupy more valuable than you found it. Add value to life and value will be added unto you, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. Anchor your character in good; for evil needs no help from you.”

George Earl Johnson Jr. is president of G.B. Johnson Inc., a leadership communications company. He was communications director for Oklahoma's Department of Human Services from 1994-2010. Johnson recently wrote “Only in America — 101 Stories in Leadership and Life's Lessons Learned,” which Tate Publishing LLC released in December.

Robert Ruiz, communications director for the new Plaza Mayor at the Crossroads: Your relationships will feed your soul

“Although we are here celebrating a momentous step towards your ultimate careers, and your career choices will have a great impact on your financial security and comfort, never forget that true happiness comes from never losing sight of who you are as an individual, and never putting that career ahead of your relationships. Your career may feed your body, but the love in those relationships will feed your soul.

“Time is fleeting, so make wise choices. Always tell the truth. Always help those in need. Always do your best, and you will live a life free of regret. Hold your head up high, and know there will be difficult times. But also, be confident that good times await you as well. May good fortune be with you.”

Robert Black, corporate chef, A Good Egg Dining Group: ‘Work hard, and have a little fun'

“Work hard, and have a little fun. As Dave Ramsey would say, ‘If you work like no one else, later you can live like no one else.'”

CONTRIBUTING: Helen Ford Wallace, George Lang,
Rick Rogers, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Brandy McDonnell, Dave Cathey,
Carla Hinton and Heather Warlick