Bill Sniffin Wyoming's national award winning columnist

Bill Sniffin News
Home Search

1917 - A cautionary tale a message for grads

I have seen the future.

It is just like today, only different.

Oops, it changed again.

Never mind.


         It is truly hard to imagine the kind of world today’s Wyoming High School graduates will be experiencing during their long lives after graduation.

         I have given commencement talks before. This is the one that I would give if asked to speak in high schools in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Kemmerer, Evanston, Lander, Riverton, Afton, Powell, Sheridan, Worland, Wheatland, Torrington, Casper, Newcastle, Sundance, Upton, Greybull, Basin, Pine Bluffs, Lusk, Bridger Valley, or any other city or town where my column appears. Here is that talk in written form:

         Yes, their future is going to be different than any other future that has come before them.

         My parents and grandparents used words like “gumption” to describe someone who worked extra hard to try to get ahead.  What your generation of graduating seniors needs, to cope with what’s ahead, is gumption.

         Now here are six strategies about what you should do to get ahead:

         • Although working hard is a virtue, working “smart” is genius. 

• Education is the key but I am not talking about advanced degrees here.  I am talking about identifying a field you would like to work in and then learning everything you can about it. Best way to do this is talking with people already working in the field.  Another option is volunteering to work in the fringe parts of that industry.  Scanning the Internet for everything you can find out about trends in that field helps, too.  You can never learn enough.

• It is not who you know or what you know that counts in getting a good career going.  It is who you know AND what you know that will make all the difference. Locate and cultivate mentors.

• Responsibility, honesty, and ethics are critical. If you are loyal to those who you work with and for, you will be stunned by how far that will get you in your later careers.

• Timing is the single most important thing in getting ahead.  You must stay on top of trends and always, always check which way the economic winds are blowing.  You must be a man or woman of action.  Jump when you need to, but look before you leap.

• Today’s young people are more idealistic.  They want to save the world.  They want jobs where they feel they are making a difference.

I recall my high school graduation.  The overriding thought that ran through my head was “what is going to happen to me?” 

This is the most exciting time to be alive. Approach these times with optimism and love for your fellow human beings (plus gumption) and you should turn out just fine.

Most folks my age cannot recall what was said during their high school graduations.  But I can remember one thing from mine.  More on that later.

For over 50 years, I have been writing columns called messages for graduates Almost every one of these other columns was concerned about jobs and the economy.

         Instead, today, it is appropriate to go back to that message delivered to my 74 Baby Boomer classmates and me in 1964 in a stuffy gym in Elgin, Iowa.

         A future senator was our speaker. He said we could change the world. Change the world?

         This is a very hopeful message.  So how does one change the world?  Find a cure for cancer? Start a company or a charity or a movement, which will improve mankind? 

Perhaps you could affect somebody’s life who will go on to do wonderful things?

         Let’s go to the core. Let’s talk about ethics.  I am talking about you, as the graduate, looking in the mirror and deciphering what is looking back at you.

         This is a big deal.  Ethics are needed more today by our graduates than ever before. My favorite definition of ethics is how you behave when no one is watching.

         A wise old guy named B. T. McManus once told me: “Bill, if you always tell the truth, it is amazing how easy it is to remember what you said.”  McManus founded the Bi-Rite Drug Store chain.

Over time, you learn there are absolutes in life. 

         Ethics. Morals.  Standards.  Rules.  What are your guiding principles? Are graduates too young to contemplate such a concept? I doubt that.

         Everyone needs a roadmap.  And a roadmap defined by ethics and morals can be the best tool you can have to ensure that you enjoy a successful life.