A Creative Commencement Address: Our Advice to Graduating Creatives

Many of us remember that we had a commencement address during college graduation. It’s a standard, after all. But not all of us can actually recall what was said, because many commencement addresses tend to include some fairly standard platitudes.

Find your passion. Never give up. Take risks. Be bold. Work hard. All good pieces of advice, but they’re applicable to anyone in almost every field. This got us thinking: What kind of advice would a team of creatives give to graduating students who aspire to do creative work?

Lucky for us, we have a talented team of creatives here at Pace. We asked them to take an anonymous survey, selected some of our favorite insightful and colorful responses and juxtaposed them with some standard commencement tropes. Across the board, all of those surveyed agree: As a young, professional creative you’re allowed to be pretty much anything.

Except boring.

What’s the best advice you got after graduating?

 Your creative life has only just begun.

“You shouldn’t take graduating college as a sign that you have permanently set who you are and what you do for life, but rather as the beginning of a journey to go out and really find out who you can be.”

Learn to take feedback.

“Be better, not bitter.”

There’s no single path on the journey to success.

“I think the best advice you can give someone who is about to graduate is that there isn’t a 100% guaranteed correct way to achieve the success you want in your career and life. It seems obvious, but I would advise graduates to focus on thinking about what makes them happy rather than what they think will make them successful.”

Focus on what matters.

“If you’re proud of your GPA, get it tattooed on your face, because otherwise no one will ever ask you about it.”

Be patient and grateful.

“When you’re trying to get interviews and show off your portfolio, role-play a bit. Pretend you’re not jobless and are actually busy (because your editors will invariably be busy). Imagine that you’re not the only one aiming for the dream job you want (because you inevitably aren’t). Now impress them in the few seconds you have.”

Fake it ’til you make it.

“After college, I had an internship before I had a full-time job. I was told, at an internship, don’t just act like the intern, act like a full-time staff member. Not only will you earn respect, but also distinguish yourself as someone who is hirable. That’s how you turn an internship into a job.” 

Find time to do what you love, even if it’s your personal time.

“Do what you love, and don’t quit, because otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a job you hate, in a life that is uninspiring, and wonder why the heck you allowed yourself to get there.”

Knowing what you know now, what advice do you wish you’d been given about making it as a creative?

Be thoughtful about where you start.

“Consider a small role at a great company before a bigger role at a mediocre company. Your future role models and mentors probably work for the former.”

Never stop creating.

“Work every day on something you love. Creativity comes in many forms, and if you’re drawn to being creative and doing creative work (whatever that may be), do it often, and do it well. Even if you don’t do it well in the beginning, keep doing it until you are confident in your abilities. Then find a way to make money doing what you love. Even if it’s just a side business. Ask yourself: What do I have to offer that other people need? And then go out and find those people. Put yourself out there.”

Stay creative—don’t focus on obstacles.

“While you’re looking for jobs, keep creating and adjusting. Shift. Diverge. Do whatever, but keep moving, keep creating. Don’t focus on what you can’t do and deplete your energy by focusing on obstacles. You were paying other people for the opportunity to perfect your craft, now you can do it for free, and eventually progress into doing it for pay.”

Understand the value that you and your creative mind bring to the table.

“I wish someone had told me not to be afraid to ask for what I think I’m worth salary-wise.”

Be flexible, but don’t settle.

“You may not land a job in your field of study immediately after graduation. You may have to take a temporary position for a while that isn’t what you want to do long-term, but it’s something to keep you going while you look for better options. Just don’t give up on your goals, or settle. Keep looking for new doors and new opportunities!”

What’s the worst advice you got?

Take what you can get; just having a job is what matters the most.

“To take the first job I was offered. I don’t know why people say that—I guess so you’re safe and have a job—but that’s not always the best option.”

Exaggerate on your résumé. No one will know.

“That it’s OK to exaggerate on your résumé, because you probably won’t get caught. It’s tempting, but don’t. If you washed dishes, don’t call it “underwater ceramic engineering” because you’re going to feel like a jerk when you have to explain how that experience qualifies you for a position. To thine own self but true, but also to your employer.”

Just follow you heart, don’t worry about the rest.

“Just do what you love and the rest will take care of itself. People say that if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, and that’s exactly right because you’ll never get hired. You should love what you do, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should only do what you love and nothing else. Everyone has to do stuff they don’t like in their careers in order to have time to enjoy their art and what they’re passionate about outside of their jobs.”

You’ve learned all that you can.

“You’re not a student anymore; grow up and move on.”

“College is over, you’ve learned what you’re going to learn and it’s your job to show it off to people.”

If you don’t know what to do, just go to grad school.

“Get your master’s degree right after you graduate so you’re more hirable. I’m glad I didn’t because it wasn’t necessary (real-world experience trumps all!) and I would be in debt up to my eyeballs!”

Just cast a really wide net and you’ll snag something. Eventually.

“I was told to just send out a ton of résumés, to use the shotgun-blast approach and hope that someone called me back. Experience in this field has shown me that your audience is always sharp and they always care, and that includes people who read your résumés. Put a little effort into researching the companies to find out what it is you’ll like about them and what they’ll like about you.”

_ _ _

There’s an exponential degree of advice out there on the Internet for anyone, about doing anything, from just about everyone. Remember that you’re free to take advice and just as free to drop it when it becomes a burden. Other people’s advice and their opinions on your career trajectory will always be right where you left it. You’re young; you’ve got the time to come back for it if you want.

Because your career starts with the job of parsing through it all and finding what works best for you. So, go ahead—listen to us because we know what worked for us, and in some cases what didn’t work for us at all. But this is based on our personal experiences. Yours may vary. Maybe not in every way, but in many. If there were definite answers for what you should do to achieve artistic and professional enlightenment, you’d probably have learned them in your formal education.

So, get out there and start doing. That’s the glory of being a creative; you get to make it all up as you go.

By David Luther

Keep reading in News and Events