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A poet’s advice to new grads: Be curious, embrace failure and ‘jump’

Graduation season is upon us — equal parts joy, sweet relief and anxiety. Those of us who have walked, tassels swinging, toward an outstretched hand with long-awaited diploma can say that a bit of good advice goes a long way.

Photo by Ben Fractenberg

But writer Jason Reynolds thinks it’s OK to throw timeworn wisdom out the window. “You don’t have to pick a career right now. Find a job. Find a few jobs. Sometimes it’s okay for careers to find you,” he said.

And working in restaurants or retail after graduation? It’s okay to work in jobs you know might not last forever, said Reynolds, because “all the best humans do.”

Reynolds writes young adult novels and poetry, and his latest work is a book-length “letter in verse” that offers advice and urges the reader to pass it on to anyone who needs an extra push.

In “For Everyone,” Reynolds encourages insatiable curiosity, which he calls the lifeblood of imagination and a springboard for opportunities. “The more we learn, the more we experience, the bigger (and smaller) the world becomes, which means possibilities become… possible,” Reynolds writes.

And failure, he said, is survivable, nothing more than “a rerouting, a reconfiguration, and furthermore, a great story.”

For everyone about to take a daunting step forward after the confetti clears and the thank-you cards have been signed, Reynolds has this message:

“Jump. I know you’re uncertain. Guess what? We all are. Jump anyway.”

Read and pass along a bit of Reynolds’ “For Everyone” below.

Excerpt from “For Everyone”

When it comes to
my dream,
the way I like to describe it
is that
it’s a rabid beast
that found me when I
was young.

It bit me
and infected me,
but before
I could catch it,
it shot off into
the darkness.
now I spend my life
searching for it,
hunting it down.

I know I’m on its trail.
I can smell it.
I can hear it.
Sometimes I think I can even see it.

Either way,
I know
I’m on the right track–
my nose to the dirt,
foaming at the spirit.
I look under heavy stones,
behind massive trees,
deep in dark caves,
and I will keep looking
until I find that beast,
that thing that bit me
when I was young.

The truth is,
finding that beast may
or may not happen.
But the treasures I’ve discovered
under the heavy stones
and behind the massive trees
and deep in the dark caves
have created the hunter
and the human
that I am.

Your dream is the mole
behind your ear,
that chip in your
front tooth,
your freckles.

It’s the thing that makes
you special,
but not the thing that makes
you great.

The courage in trying,
the passion in living,
and the acknowledgement
and appreciation of
the beauty happening around
you does that.


I am not fit to say much more,
because I do not know much more than that.
If you do,
please write back.
If not,
please accept this
as just a few words
of encouragement.
And if this letter means nothing to you,
if it’s just more pointless weight
added to an already heavy life,
feel free to burn it
and use it for firelight
for this
long and often dark

But if you somehow find truth,
or anything at all
within this ramble,

keep it close

and use it for firelight
for this
long and often dark

With love,
Jason Reynolds

From For Everyone by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books)

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