Dear graduates,

Your day has come. You may be sad, you may be excited, you may be scared. There’s an limitless mix of emotions you may be feeling as you cross that stage and receive your diploma, and not matter what your’ feeling, it is a day of celebration of your accomplishment.

I know you’re probably swimming in advice right now, but I thought I’d share some thoughts for you as you reach this milestone.

• It’s OK to not know what you want to do with the rest of your life. As I went through high school, a number of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do with their life or at least what field or area they wanted to study. Even my 12-year-old son has had a goal since first grade that he’s working toward. That was not me. It took me until my junior year of college to figure out what I wanted to do, and much longer — several years into my career, in fact — to become passionate about it.

• Continue planning, but it’s OK if it doesn’t work out. When I first started at a local newspaper in a town of 25,000 people in Iowa, it was my plan to work there a few years, get experience and then go work for one of the big magazine publishers. It seemed doable, too, as Des Moines, a mere 90 minutes away, is home to one of the largest. Then came the crash of 2008, when publishers were laying off rather than hiring. Then came marriage, and following the old nursery rhyme, a baby. Moving just wasn’t in the cards at the time for us. But it was a year and a half ago, and it brought me here. I’ve never regretted that decision. While it wasn’t the grand plan my 20-year-old self had planned out, I’m very happy with how things have turned out.

• It doesn’t have to be out with the old and in with the new. While my various phases of life have introduced me to new people and places, I haven’t forgotten my roots. While small-town life wasn’t for me as an adult — and that was one thing I knew early — I’m grateful for my upbringing in a small Iowa town of 5,000 people. I enjoy going back once or twice a year and living a slower life for a few days, seeing family and friends. And, it’s easier now more than ever to stay in touch with your hometown friends — and the new friends you’ll meet on life’s journey — through social media.

• Enjoy your moment. You will likely have many people from near and far traveling just to celebrate you. And many more will be thinking of you. That’s even more meaningful now after years of COVID lockdowns and restrictions. My family came from near and far to celebrate my stepson two years ago. While there wasn’t enough space at the graduation venue, they were able to watch a live stream and recorded their cheering and sent it to us. It still means the world to me that they came out to celebrate his day. It will be something you will always cherish and remember.

• Be proud of yourself. Whether school came easy for you or you really had to push yourself to make it through, receiving your diploma is a major accomplishment. It’s a symbol of commitment and planning to make sure you fulfilled all the requirements to make it here. Take pride in that fact, no matter the route you took.

And to all the graduates of 2023, congratulations! I wish nothing but the best of luck for you as you move into your future.