Building a Better Student: The Diploma, Pt. 2

lots of graduates sitting during ceremony

It’s difficult to define success, because to ten different people it means ten different things. But if, for the sake of argument, we agree that it’s a conjunction of career triumph and personal happiness, then what ingredients should your student add to the mix in order to increase her chances of achieving success?

In part one of the discussion we examined elements that bolster a professional life. Now we move inside the head and the heart. Here are six additional steps to building a better student beyond the diploma.

1)  Resist apathy. And yes, the contradiction is intentional. Apathy is the easy route, forgiving mistakes and sloppiness in both the professional and social world because . . . well, because everyone else does it that way. This lack of concern builds like plaque, creating layers of mediocrity or worse. Invest the few seconds it takes to be better.

2)  Find a quiet cove in the mind. It’s a challenge to unplug, and getting more difficult by the day. But we were designed to process information, to distill it in context before acting (outside of emergencies), and the best way to do that – to truly see the bigger picture and how it can be improved – is by getting away from it all.

3)  Genuinely help others. The adverb is there for a reason, because too often we provide more lip service than real aid. In particular, volunteer in places where you can see and talk to those who are in desperate need. It helps them, while teaching you appreciation.

4)  Explore, both physically and intellectually. The world is our best classroom, with lessons available in every field: history, science, geography, social studies. The universe is our best lab, with opportunities to see things in ways we never imagined. Walking, observing, and reading builds a better, more rounded student, every time.

5)  Elevate your personal standards. This applies to books, music, movies, art, and – most importantly – people. It doesn’t make you superior or snobby; it improves you and, consequently, the world you leave in your wake.

6)  Develop meaningful relationships. This is not social media, nor happy hour, nor business contacts. Some of my strongest friendships developed through a shared discussion of personal pain, which forges a deeper connection through understanding and (sometimes) empathy. Regardless of the origin – whether happy or sad – find people with whom you resonate, and who will help you grow as a person.

You’ll note that number six in both part one and part two involve the people in your sphere. One is career-based, the other personal. Both are critical to success and happiness, and both contribute to our development as an individual.

Combined, the twelve suggestions in these two posts provide a way for students to distinguish themselves from their peers, not through shallow shortcuts, but rather through mature introspection. They’re steps that can begin at any age, at any stage of education, or – for that matter – any stage of life.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want competent graduates.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at

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