We’re closing in on the time of year where many high school seniors choose where to attend college, while college seniors get ready to hear the advice of commencement speakers.

While I am deeply honored to have Gov. Mills address our graduates next month, I am reminded of a column Frank Bruni of The New York Times penned last year, in which he wondered why universities offer such guidance as students prepare to leave their institutions, but much less so when they enroll.

It is somewhat ironic that so many universities fail to offer such advice at the outset of college, since the derivation of commencement is “to begin.” So why not start at the beginning, helping students to make the most of their college years?

This is especially important for students who are the first in their family to go to college. Such students frequently arrive with little or no understanding of the college environment or how to make the most of the opportunities before them.

I know, because I was once one of those kids. The first in my family to attend a four-year college, I arrived as a freshman lacking confidence in my abilities and uncertain of how to proceed. I felt like an imposter.

What made all the difference were faculty members who showed an interest in me. They took me under their wing and helped guide me.

While it’s not unusual for caring faculty to reach out to mentor students in need, here is my No. 1 “commencement” advice to incoming college students: Don’t wait for faculty members to find you. Find them. Seek them out, ask for help and ask questions.

Studies show that having a faculty mentor or mentors is key to success in college and afterward. As mentor-mentee relationships are established, so, too are research opportunities, internships and networking in your fields of interest.

But don’t limit yourself to just faculty members  – which brings me to commencement advice No. 2 for incoming students: Lean on your professional advisers. After all, it’s their job to support you.

Seek out your advisers early and often. At the University of Southern Maine, we actually mandate that every incoming student meet with their university advisor for at least 90 minutes before their first semester even starts.

During these advising meetings, advisers are able to get to know each student, ask them questions about their interests, goals and fears and assure students that help exists. And it’s the student’s first opportunity to ask questions, both large and small, from where to pick up a form to what major might best suit his or her interests.

I implore students, though, to go beyond these initial sessions, and to lean on your advisers throughout college. Surely, you could use their help, because I guarantee you will face twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks, and challenges and opportunities throughout your college career.

My commencement advice No. 3 for incoming students is to seek out yet another key university group: the career services staff. Don’t wait for your senior year to meet with them. Do so early on to ensure you have multiple opportunities to do job shadows, internships and more.  This real-world experience will give you a leg up in launching your career after graduation.

Internships also enable you to test out whether a field of interest actually truly appeals to you. Sometimes you’ll find it does. And sometimes you’ll find it doesn’t.

Either way, it’s best to find out before you graduate.

This leads me to my final piece of commencement advice for incoming students: Be flexible and open to opportunities. It’s great to arrive at college thinking you know exactly what you want, but don’t be afraid to sample other programs and fields.

It benefited me. I entered college with the vision of becoming an attorney. Yet, just a few years later, I found myself happily teaching history and economics at Gorham High School. With the exception of a diversion into politics, I have been blessed to be in education ever since.

I received the right guidance and support when I needed it most – and that was well before I donned a cap and gown. Don’t be afraid to ask for this support, and let your future commence.

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