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Contributed Photo / Recent University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate Katherine Bolton gestures during her graduation ceremony in McKenzie Arena last month.

The newspaper's Life section is seeking life advice from readers for recent high school or college graduates.

With graduates now spending their first few weeks loosed from their educational moorings, we thought we'd give the advice a shot.

High school, to us, doesn't seem that long ago — though it was — and we occasionally hear words to the effect of "I would never want to go back there," but we urge graduates not to forget that time.

You are likely never again to experience a time in your lives when someone takes care of your basic needs (food, shelter, clothing), but you nevertheless are allowed to make some adult-ish decisions. Don't forget the freedom you had, remember how much you enjoyed it and work hard enough as adults to one day be able to have a measure of that kind of freedom again.

When we went through K-12 schools, the mantra for all students was to go to college so we wouldn't have to be a plumber, ironworker or toil in some other blue-collar job. Boy, was that advice wrong. Many blue-collar workers today outearn lots of us who stuck out four years of college for a degree.

College isn't for everybody. If school was a chore and you prefer to work more with your hands, check into vocational professions. Get training, a certificate and experience, and a number of companies will beat the door down to hire you.

But if college is for you, and whether a parent, grandparent or you are paying for it, get your money's worth. College is a time to have fun and make more of those adult-ish decisions, but bear down to finish what you start. It's four years. You've just done 12. A college degree is still worth a lot more than a high school diploma, so stick it out.

When we were in college, we worked and went to school. Colleges didn't offer as many extracurricular opportunities or assistance then, so we didn't check out studies abroad (not that we could afford them), summer jobs in another part of the country, counseling or any university services. Colleges today are full of programs to help you personally, widen your job perspectives and preparation for jobs, find you internships and expand your horizons. Since you're paying for them with your tuition and fees, you may as well take advantage of them. You never know when you might be turned on to a career you never knew you wanted or a talent you never knew you had.

For college graduates, we would offer similar advice. The days of someone taking a job straight out of college and retiring from that job at age 65 are long gone. So if you've graduated from an institute of higher learning with that degree in psychology or English literature (or, really, any degree) and you have no idea what you want to do, consider all your options — even those out of your comfort zone. Try something for a summer. Try something else for a year. Move out of town, if that's an option. Be open to new experiences. The more things you try, the closer you're likely to get to what you really want to do.

Don't cloister yourself.

If you do that and you don't know what you want to do, you'll only fester in your own misery. Join a sports club, join a social group, join a church (yes, a spiritual life is important, too). Be active with other people, see what they're doing, understand what makes them happy.

For us, theater, Big Brothers Big Sisters and a local food bank offered social interaction and helped us to see how fortunate we were to have had two parents and a job that at least paid the bills.

Live frugally until you don't have to.

If you can afford to put away part of your paycheck (and nearly all of us can), do so. Do you need that 72-inch television now, that leather couch, to visit the bar four nights a week? Build a nest egg of savings that you can spend on a house someday, your future children's college or that trip you've always wanted to take. It doesn't mean you can't have fun. It just means you're careful with your priorities.

Work hard and be kind, but don't be a workaholic or a pushover.

Hard work is recognized in almost all types of professions. (Heck, showing up is a valuable commodity today.) One boss once told us it was better to be a workhorse than a show horse or a plow horse. But be ready to leave if the job begins to own you.

You've heard it said that you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Treat your employers and your coworkers with respect. Collaborate with them. Help them. Be an example for them. Like hard work, kindness also gets noticed. Just make sure your kindness doesn't mean you can be stepped on.

We'll admit we've taken some of the advice we dole out today and not taken some of it. Regrets? We have a few, but then again — as in the song "My Way" — too few to mention.

But three things probably sum it up: Work hard, be kind and experience much.

Happy graduation!

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