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MAY 08, 2013

The Daily Californian reached out to prominent professors and instructors for their parting advice to the graduating class. Here are their responses, which were sent via email.

Professors and instructors who responded:

Robert Reich, Goldman School of Public Policy
Terry Johnson, Department of Bioengineering
Alan Ross, Haas School of Business
Daniel Mulhern, Haas School of Business & UC Berkeley School of Law
Ron Hassner, Department of Political Science

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you were graduating?

Reich: That the real test wasn’t whether I’d succeed or fail — I failed again and again — but my resilience in bouncing back from failure.

Johnson: Choosing what to do next seems momentous, but it will not define you, your career, or your life.

Ross: I wish I knew that life isn’t a straight line. Up until graduation, Cal students, for the most part, have only known success. Knowing that life isn’t always going to be like this and being able to handle setbacks is crucial. When I graduated I sent out one resume and got the job of my dreams at the top political consulting firm in San Francisco. My dream soon turned into a nightmare, as it turned out to be the job from hell. I wasn’t ready for this and it took me years to overcome this setback. Be prepared for life to take you places, both good and bad, that you never dreamed you would visit. And most importantly, enjoy the ride.

Mulhern: Don’t take yourself so seriously. Oddities, failures, and the grace of God were more important than my logical and/or anguished decisions. How else do I explain the best thing that ever happened to me: that girl in the Harvard Law t-shirt on April 1, 1985 at Counter M in Newark who’s now been my wife for 27 great years! It took her 25 years, but she got me to Cal. How lucky was that?

Hassner: The truth about time travel and bayonets. Those who’ve taken PS124 (“War!”) know this. If you ever get your hands on a time machine, and you use it to travel back in time, and you step out of the machine, and you’re in the middle of a war, and people are fighting with bayonets… you get right back into that time machine. You hear me? Just do it! Don’t argue with me. I teach PS124, I know that I’m talking about.

What advice do you have for those who still don’t know what they’ll be doing after graduation?

Reich: Do not worry. Chances are your next job won’t “launch” your career. You’ll have two to five jobs before you have a good idea of what you want to do.

Johnson: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Many graduates suffer from analysis paralysis, looking…and looking…and looking…for a position that is exactly what they want, even though they’re not sure what they want. Take a risk and learn from the experience.

Ross: You aren’t supposed to know what you want to be when you graduate from college. This is another one of those myths that is perpetuated every year and makes normal students who don’t have a clue what they want to be feel bad about their situation. All you’ve ever been is a student so how are you supposed to know that you want to be a lawyer, a consultant or a physicist? You may have liked studying a certain subject but that doesn’t mean you are going to enjoy a career in that field. Use your 20’s to explore ANYTHING that you think might interest you through internships and informational interviews. Talk to as many people as you can and make contacts whenever you can. If by the time you’re 30 you’ve found something that interests you and you are ready to pursue it, that’s fantastic. Life is long, we don’t die at 52 anymore. Don’t think that you have to have an answer immediately. Those that jump right into law school or other grad schools or careers often regret rushing into something that they didn’t take the time to really look into. Then they are stuck in a career they don’t enjoy or are back to square one saddled with huge student loans.

Mulhern: If you’re lucky enough not to have big debt, then get lost. In the world. In a big city. In a forest. And in service to others. Lose yourself to find yourself.

Hassner: Remember that kid from 2nd grade who kept saying that he wanted to be a dentist and today he’s… a dentist? Those people scare me. You probably haven’t made up your mind yet because you have the courage required for delaying the decision until you’ve explored all of your options. Good for you. Take your time. Try out different jobs, locations, lifestyles. Of course you have to work to pay for food and rent. Work hard. But you don’t have to commit yourself to a career quite yet.

For those who can’t find a job?

Reich: Be patient. You’ll find one. You’re on the winning side of the great divide. You’ve graduated from one of the best universities in the world. You’ll do just fine. Calm down.

Johnson: Interviews can be hard to come by, so make each one count. Get together with other job-seekers and practice!

Ross: Don’t give up. It may take a while but things will work out if you keep at it.

Mulhern: Create value for somebody, somewhere. Make them want to pay you.

Hassner: You’re reading the Daily Cal for professors’ advice on what to do when you can’t find a job? That’s your problem, right there.

How do you remember feeling when you were about to graduate?

Reich: Apprehensive. The Vietnam War was raging and I didn’t know if I’d be drafted. America’s cities were burning in the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination. Bobby Kennedy had been killed. Everything looked like it was going to hell.

Johnson: Sprawling existential terror. I’d spent most of my life self-identifying as a student, and a lot of my self-esteem was tied up in being a good one. I had no idea what it was I was going to do, or if I was going to feel good doing it. I found that the less anxiety you have about what you’re going to do next, the easier it is to find satisfaction in what you’re doing now.

Ross: I remember sitting at graduation thinking what’s wrong with everyone. People were excited and celebrating and I was thinking that they’re all crazy, as this is the end of the best years of our lives. And I was right.

Mulhern: Glad it was over. Seriously.

Hassner: I remember thinking: that was easy. Those are some nice letters after my name. What do I have to do to get an “M” or a “P” or an “H”? By now, I’ve collected nine more letters of the alphabet and am considering a degree in zoology (with a minor in Yiddish).

Do you have any other words of advice for this year’s graduates?

Reich: Most importantly, don’t be cynical about America or your capacity to change it — or to change the world.

Johnson: “Learn from everyone, follow no one, watch for patterns, work like hell.” — Scott McCloud

Ross: I know everyone has heard this one a thousand times, but this time I think the age old adage is correct, follow your passion. And if you don’t have a passion find one. You are going to spend an enormous part of your life working and if you love what you do it makes for a much happier life. Don’t settle for something because it’s safe or because it pleases your parents or impresses your friends. Find something that you truly love to do and go for it. If you’re lucky you will be able to combine your career with your passion. But if you can’t, you can still make time to paint, act, garden, travel, or mountain climb. Your job isn’t your entire life and don’t let it become who you are. Stay in touch with your friends and make lots of new ones. Remember to give something back when you can and have fun at whatever you do.

Mulhern: I feel as close as ever to my buds from ’80…Dang, that’s 33 years. So, drink a toast, shed a tear, give Bear hugs, yet know it ain’t over!

Hassner: Another lesson from PS124. There are two kinds of questions: questions with easy answers and interesting questions. If you run out of the second kind, please come back home to Berkeley. We have more classes for you to take and more unanswerable questions for you to ponder.

Contact Emma Anderson at 


MAY 12, 2013

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