Megan O'Neil

Megan O'Neil (June 8, 2013)

Dear Glendale graduates,

The annual commencement issue of the Glendale News-Press is always among my favorites.

I enjoyed poring over your faces in this week's graduation photo spreads even more so than usual because I myself recently donned a cap and gown to accept my master's degree at USC.

A few weeks ago, we were concurrently willing papers to write themselves, and sweating over final exams. Now we are focused on the summer gigs and out-of-Glendale moves that await.

But before you hit the road, recognize that no matter what stage of your education you are in, or what school you are graduating from, you didn't get here alone.

There are siblings who blazed the trail. There are parents who checked your homework each night. There is a teacher or a coach who refused to accept a subpar performance, or a counselor who connected you with a scholarship that makes college possible.

The time to acknowledge those individuals is now. Write them a card. Leave them a voicemail. Shoot them a tweet. Give thanks where thanks are due, and then continue to surround yourself with great people. They will only serve to drive you forward.

Your diploma is already resting on the mantle over the fireplace. Or maybe your grandpa managed to adhere it to a refrigerator door.

Eventually it will get tucked away somewhere in a drawer, or in a box in your mother's junk closet, perhaps not to be unearthed for many years. That's OK. The 7.5 x 11-inch piece of paper represents only one step in what will be a long life of learning.

Indeed, if the 11 years and two degrees that have come since my own high school commencement have taught me anything, it's how much more there is to know. Plan on being a perpetual student, whether that leads you to a sewing tutorial on YouTube, a language immersion program in Yerevan, Armenia or a Ph.D. at an Ivy League institution. There is nothing you can't learn.

Pursue things that scare you, at least a little bit. Many of the most rewarding accomplishments of your young adult life are likely to generate a few heart palpitations. They require hard work, focus and time. If something is easy, it probably wasn't much of a goal in the first place.

Know, too, that the opportunity to be an influencer is upon you. Not all of us are blessed with the patience and skills required to lead a classroom of students, but we can still be teachers in our own way.

You have already set the tone by earning your diploma. Now you have the opportunity to carry that forward in the choices you make in your academic, professional and personal life. Family members and friends will be watching.

As your fellow member of the Class of 2013, it remains only for me to wish you a hearty congratulations. You've made it, and the best is yet to come.

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MEGAN O'NEIL is a former education reporter for Times Community News and a recent graduate of USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. She may be reached at megan.oneil.06@gmail.com.

Editor's note: Megan O'Neil's column will cease for now as she heads to Washington D.C. for an internship following her graduation from USC.