Advice For My Graduating Daughter (And All Graduands)

This week my daughter graduates from high school. In August she'll be leaving home, moving across Canada to attend the University of Ottawa. Her first goal is a BSc Degree with honours in Biomedical Science.

Opportunity Awaits

Sarah, you've always been smart. You have an innate intelligence that is entirely your own. Be proud of this. It's who you are...

Soon you will begin the next steps in defining who you are yet to be. Evolution my dear. It can be slow and dirty - talk to your genes about their journey so far. Or it can be quick and painful - scan a list of the Darwin Awards for paths not to take.

Look for answers. But first, look for questions. I've got a few to get you started.

What's the big deal about university?

I know you've chosen Biomedical Science because you're looking for a career in medicine, just like Mom. Know that this is a long process, with a dedication to learning far surpassing anything needed in high school.

It needs not just "book" learning, but people learning as well.

Yes, you must know how the body does what it does. But an excellent doctor also understands what a person is, and how that person extends to the people around them. Every person has a constellation of people circling about them. They all influence each other. Use your time in university to study these orbits as well as the fundamentals of science. You'll go far.

Will your body stand up to the rigors of life?

University can be exhausting. I'm not sure why, but thinking can make you physically tired without even moving a muscle. Is this clear evidence of the mind-body connection? Perhaps.

Take care of your body and it will energize you for the rigors of thinking that study - that life - requires.

To this end, begin your day with meditation. Even five minutes works. Empty your mind from the baggage of yesterday. Set it clear to be filled with the adventures awaiting today. This very simple practice alone is a powerful antidote to anxiety.

Exercise. Even 20 minutes works. Right after your morning meditation.

Studies have shown exercise stimulates the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) - what some call "Miracle-Gro for the Brain". With a daily dose of BDNF on board, you'll be secretly armed to learn faster and retain more of what you learn.

Don't despair if you can't get your exercise done first thing in the morning - do it later if you must. You'll still get the BDNF. Your healthy body will love you for it.

Eat smart to think smart.

The most simple advice I have is to avoid eating anything that comes wrapped in plastic or stuck in a box. If it has grown its own wrapper - like apple skin - eat it! Drink water throughout the day. Forget about the "8 glasses a day" mantra. There isn't much science behind that volume. Just keep sipping enough so you'll need to use the bathroom more than once a day...

Will you spend your money wisely?

Mom and I had the foresight to save for your education, even to help put you all the way through medical school if that's truly your final destination. You should be able to make it without any student debt... if you shepherd your money wisely.

Here are four things you must accept and do in the world of adults you're about to enter:

1. Accept that you are entirely responsible for your current financial situation. Don't expect us or the government to come along and bail you out. We might. But you mustn't expect this. Shun entitlement thinking...

2. Keep your financial expectations realistic. Setting unrealistic goals will lead you to take on too much risk. Expect reasonable returns of less than 10%. Live within your means and that will be enough.

3. There are three ways to use your money: spending, saving, and investing. Always, always know what necessary expenses (rent, utilities, food) you have coming due and cover those first out of your paycheque.

Then put money aside into savings. I've always had an "automatic withdrawal" set up on your bank account so that with each paycheque 10% was automatically transferred into a separate savings account. That's money for something you might want to do or have in the near future - less than seven years if you can even think that far ahead. In Canada we've got Tax-Free Savings Accounts. As soon as you are 18 years old, open one and begin stuffing some savings money in there.

Then put some money into investing. That's money for your long term plans - 10+ years down the road... the downpayment on your first home, funds for your retirement. Eventually, when you start drawing a real paycheque, it'll make tax-sense to have your own RRSP - start putting money into it too. Then open your own non-registered investment account and put money away into it too. Do this with your investing, and you'll always be in a position to mind point #1 above.

Finally, after you've paid your bills... after you've put something into savings... and after you've put something more into investing... then and only then can you spend what's left on what you might "want" to do or have right now, like the next pair of shoes to add to your collection!

4. Understand that your net invest-able money (what's left over after you've paid your bills, and put away that 10% into savings) is completely dependent upon how much income comes into your hands in the first place. This will determine how quickly you'll become wealthy. Increase your income. Consider the education you're receiving. Choose your path wisely and the job market will reward you - the Western world rewards smart brains like yours, if they're applied smartly. Even think of ways to have multiple income streams. That will only accelerate your path to wealth.

Will you have fun with your friends?

University classes and living in residence will open a new galaxy of friends for you. There are times when it'll be fine to be alone. But life can be so much richer - in ways your wealth cannot buy - if you're sharing experiences with friends you love. Make time for them.

You'll be on your own, on a campus of entirely new people. Meet a few. Join a club, or a team, or an organization dedicated to a cause you've always wished to call your own. Find some friends there.

Through active involvement you'll become part of a community - your community, so very much different from high school.

But maintain a balance. You'll need most of your time for study. But with some planned breaks for non-study, you'll reward yourself with fun friendships.


Sarah, you are emerging from high school as a kindhearted young woman, filled with the power of empathy. You did not learn these things. They're simply who you are.

Soon you will be traveling 3,400 kilometers - far away - to attend university. But I believe our lives are forever entangled - like the quantum particles we are. And I like that entanglement.

Know that I'm grateful to call you my daughter.

Love, Dad...

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