When I graduated from college -- yes literally in the last century! -- it seemed as if we needed and had less plans. I don't remember worrying that I hadn't found my passion, or found the job of my dreams. I was pretty pragmatic -- had to pay the rent -- wanted to have fun -- wanted to change the world and was ambitious. But I had no idea how I was going to make that happen other than putting one foot in front of the other.
A few years ago when my son Edward graduated from college, I wrote to all of you describing my worries about all I had forgotten to teach him and came up with a fun library to launch him on his new life. In talking to him now, it was the combination of the inspirational and practical that he appreciated and found valuable. It is those principles that have guided my suggestions for graduation this year.
The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer
After reading Pico Iyer's new slim book, The Art of Stillness, this notion of stillness has been much on my mind. He explores the idea that the ultimate adventure is going Nowhere -- touching on Emily Dickinson's poems or the words of Leonard Cohen's album, Old Ideas. The text is accompanied by photographs taken by an Icelandic photographer, Eydis S. Luna Einarsdottir. It is her descriptions that communicate the attraction of stillness -- "As soon as I take out my camera I find that stillness within, that deep sense of peace I crave everyday. I get lost in such a beautiful way that it is hard to describe; it's as though I find a piece of me that I had lost without really knowing that I lost it. As I sit quietly looking through the viewfinder, my senses become heightened. The smell of the earth makes me feel grounded; the sounds of the waves crashing or grass rustling in the wind or the bleating of the sheep in the distance makes me feel so alive; and the vastness of what I see makes me feel expansive. This is what it feels like to be in the Now, which is really just to be still in the body and the mind."
The Road to Character by David Brooks
The thing I like most about David Brooks is that for an Op-Ed columnist, he doesn't spend too much time on either side of the aisle. Reacting to a culture that focuses on self and on external success, Brooks advocates for the "eulogy virtues" that cannot be quantified. He champions kindness, honesty, bravery, and faithfulness in a world that increasingly values how many "likes" you have rather than the number of people you get a smile out of each day.
Way More Than Luck by Chronicle Books
Noted graduation speeches are often a great gift. What I love about this little book is that it has so many. Sure, you can get one speech books by David Foster Wallace or by J.K. Rowling, which are great, especially if you're a big fan of either --and who isn't? However, in Way More Than Luck, you get FOURTEEN speeches from people like Tom Wolfe, Khaled Hosseini, Nora Ephron, and Michael Lewis. This is in the no-brainer category.
Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock
One of those great business books that not only shows how to lead, but how to be led. Take it from Google brass Laszlo Bock, who advocates for only hiring people smarter than you, over paying them, and when you think they have enough freedom, give them some more. Google is a pretty successful company, right?
Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World by Rachel Swaby
Science used to be a boys club. Today's young women are changing that, though not quickly enough. For the doctor, scientist, engineer, mathematician, or programmer grad in your life, nothing can be more inspiring than the story of these trailblazing female role models. Pair with Thrive or Lean In for a great gift.
How to Tie a Tie by Potter Style
Oscar Wilde said, "A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life." Whether you agree or not, we've heard from adults who wish they had this book when they graduated. It goes beyond, but covers fully, how to tie a tie and really acts as a general, pocket-size style manual. This is the type of thing a young man out on his own will appreciate
My favorite graduation gift pick of 2015, however, is Lists of Note. You may remember Letters of Note, which was one of our favorite books of last year. It is chock-full of incredible lists from inspirational people including Frank Lloyd Wright, Harry Houdini, Johnny Cash, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Tina Fey.
One such list is from Ghandi's 1947 letter to his 13-year-old grandson listing the seven "social sins" that man commits. These are inspirational words for anyone to live by:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principles
Roxanne J. Coady
P.S. The gift I always add to graduation gifts is a beautiful journal. Grads are starting new lives and experiencing new worlds--this encourages them to record their journey. It is surprising how many grads have written to me years later appreciative of the nudge to write. Plus, to the millennials, paper and pens are the new cool gadgets--no batteries or charging needed!