As high schools all over the country host graduation ceremonies, I’ve noticed a common thread: graduation speakers, teachers, and guests alike tend to focus on one essential theme: whether you go to college or not, you should find your passion and follow it, wherever it leads. This is all well and good – if you can afford to find your passion and live it. However, what is of primary concern in today’s world and job market, is to become self-sufficient and able to support yourself; in other words, to find a job.

Build the stepping stones of your future

Nothing is carved in granite. You can begin one career, while searching for another. Life experiences build upon each other. Many students abandon their major once they graduate, but nothing is lost or wasted. Sometimes mistakes take you to your greatest successes.

Each life experience prepares us, enriches us, and expands us, for better or worse. If you are alert and paying attention, you will be ready when the next opportunity presents itself. This is how you lay the stepping stones towards your future.

For example, I prepared to be a teacher, knowing that in the end, I wanted to be involved in both education and psychology. I took psychology courses, along with my education courses, so that after I became a teacher, I continued in school studying psychology. Interestingly enough, the best training I ever had for life, came from those education courses, and the experience of teaching. The most important thing is to listen to your inner voice, and find your true vocation, by aligning yourself with your authentic self so that your actions reflect your thoughts and feelings. This will lead you to your destiny.

Remember: not everyone is interested in college. However, recent studies indicate that college graduates get a broad and general education that prepares them for life, and as a result, they do better on almost every level.


1 – Prepare; do your homework. Research what is out there in the world that resonates with your interests. Are you interested in music, science, math, art, computers, engineering? Explore colleges that not only relate to your subject area, but also have a good reputation in that field. This way, job recruiters will have your college on their list, which will enhance your opportunity for employment.

2 – Try out different classes that you find interesting. Many people wait until their junior year to experience their major and are disappointed when they find out that they don’t resonate with it, at all.

3 – Prioritize your study time. The first year of school can be the most difficult for some college students. It is in the first year that colleges weed out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Grades do count and it is important, as a standard, for instructors to let you know how you are doing, and what you need to do to remediate.

Prioritize your time so that you strike a balance between having fun, which is important, and doing your work. At the end of the day, employers will look at your grades and class ranking. If you keep up with your studies each day, you won’t have to cram or pull an all-nighter. Like everything else, good grades are built one study session at a time. If you can study with your classmates, that’s even better.

Try study groups. By studying in a group, each participant shares what they think is important and you have a better chance of focusing on what your professor is looking for. This will give you a better opportunity to get the big picture… an overview of what your professor might be looking for.

4 – Persevere. “Anything worth having, is worth working for,” said Andrew Carnegie. The one characteristic that will serve you the best is perseverance. Teachers respect that quality as it reflects a strong inner core, an authentic resource.

Be flexible so that you can adapt to the different personalities of professors and the requirements of your varied courses. And, never give up! If you hit a roadblock in your studies or some research you can’t find, keep looking.

5 – Promote. In the end, be your own best cheerleader. Override the inner critic with a positive and successful inner dialogue. This is how to actively and deliberately take control of your own school experiences.

Introduce yourself and make yourself useful to your professors. A good mentor can help you in a myriad of ways, not only through advice but also those important letters that may recommend you for a higher degree or future job.

Look for internships, part-time jobs, and dress for success. The first critique anyone makes of you is the first experience with how you look. In a sense, a professor or an employer sees your dress as a reflection of your self-esteem, your maturity, and your authenticity.

6 – Be focused, and have discipline. Be alert, stay alert, and stay on task. Real change comes from small adjustments. Acknowledge and recognize problems early, and you can change and adjust, to get back on track quickly.

Have a plan, a narrative going forward that keeps you on task. Keep a calendar, make sure that you’re on time for appointments, and pay attention to that structured word budget.

Remember to stay balanced and to incorporate healthy habits such as getting the right foods to eat, and getting enough exercise and sleep. Focusing on life skills prepares you to take your place in an adult world. And three essential words – obligation, commitment, and responsibility – form the most important framework for that adulthood.

Final words of advice to high school graduates

In the final analysis, what you are to be, you are becoming. This is your moment to figure that out. Have fun, stay balanced, and enjoy the process. This is your time to test yourself against your environment. Do it with passion, and you will find your gift.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.