7 Pieces of Post-Graduation Wisdom You Can Learn from Movies

By  · Published on May 19th, 2011

“I want to say one word to you. Just one word: plastics.”

Apparently half-drunk, distant-relatives looooove The Graduate – or at least think that that infamous bit of advice is in any way helpful to graduating seniors. To those who may consider dropping this at their next grad party: please don’t.

That said, there are plenty of movies out there that can help those men and women who will soon be donning caps and gowns to better live their lives in these fragile times. No, I’m not talking about Alexis Bledel’s Post Grad – little on the nose, no?

Here are seven tidbits of wisdom every soon-to-be graduate should ingrain in their memories, and a few digestible movies to help them go down.

You’re Not in College Anymore

Recommendation: Van Wilder

The Ryan Reynolds vehicle may not be comedy gold, but it does mirror a struggle many grads go through after leaving school. Van Wilder loved the safety of college and realized it would be a lot easier to just stay put than move on to the next phase. Unfortunately, even with Reynolds’s unmatchable charm, he still looked like a total dope.

The hardest part of transitioning from college to the real world is realizing that you’ve transitioned from college to the real world. As strenuous as secondary education can be, it’s also one of the few times in life where you’re completely immersed in social life – walk out your door and you can find yourself playing Halo with eight friends, tagging along to a sex-ed lecture (complete with penis cake) or doing a keg stand on top of the school library. For as vapid as Van Wilder is, the silly teen comedy echoes a problem many post-grads face: either continuing to find ways to be in school or to live like they’re still enrolled. It’s not that you can’t continue your education or party like there’s no tomorrow, it’s just that there may be more out there. Ryan Reynolds’s career is a testament to that.

Find a Job, Any Job

Recommendation: Coyote Ugly

All Violet Sanford wanted was to leave Jersey, shack up in New York and start her career as a singer/songwriter – but is life ever that easy? Violet lands a job at the girls-dancing-on-bars joint Coyote Ugly and, while she thinks it’s the dumps, eventually segues the bartending gig into the beginnings of a substantial music career. Underestimating the power of ass-shimmying was her biggest mistake.

In our current state of financial chaos, finding the perfect gig sounds like a monumental task. And…it sort of is. So don’t get down when your dream job doesn’t land on your lap like a wish from a genie. Realize that whatever job you get could be a stepping stone to your real goals – or the beginning of an entirely new passion. The job may not involve pouring tequila into the mouths of scuzzy dudes, but, hey, that’s something.

Strive for Independence, But Don’t Forget the Fam

Recommendation: House Arrest

Like other mid-’90s wish-fulfillment comedies like Blank Check and Camp Nowhere, House Arrest gave young people a chance to experience the ramifications of locking their parents in the basement. While their mothers and fathers worked out marital problems in the dungeon, the kids learned important lessons of responsibility, finding themselves in a Lord of the Flies-esque environment where eating ice cream for breakfast quickly became unacceptable. Without parents, all hell broke loose, and it was up to the wisest ones to keep them alive.

Think of House Arrest like a metaphor. Graduating college is like locking your parents in a basement. You can choose to talk to them the through the steel bars you’ve welded to the door frame, you can throw a drape over the door and race lawnmowers around your house, or you can do a little of both. Becoming independent is a learning process, and you’ll have both the urge to cut yourself off completely or lean on your loving parents. Ease in – eventually you can unlock that underground jail cell and ride lawnmowers together.

Shit Happens

Recommendation: A Simple Plan

Everything is hunky-dory for Hank and Jacob when they stumble upon $4 million stashed in a downed airplane…until life catches up with them. The two men decide to stick to their not-so-simple plan, only to complicate matters by covering up their illegal deeds and putting their own lives on the line.

Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. College exists in a bubble away from real, consequential ups and downs, but when life serves up something positive – say, a large bag of cash – expect to hit a few bumps along the way. It’s normal, and the rash decision may be to find solutions to all the problems – say, countless cover-up murders – but really, bad things happen all the time, especially in the beginning of this new leg of the race. Instead of making things messier, remain calm, and always, always, opt out of teaming up with Billy Bob Thornton.

Be Conscious of Staying Healthy

Recommendation: Food, INC.

Documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner takes you on a journey through America’s food industry, one that will have you continually yarfing (out of disgust, unhappiness or purely to flush your system) for most of its 93 minute runtime. Kenner believes the way our food is produced is unhealthy, inhumane and dangerous to the environment. Basically, most of the food you eat is on par with fast food chains.

Now that your meal plan is out the window, your free gym access is a distant memory and your focus is shifting toward new goals, being aware of your physical health is more key than ever. The “freshman fifteen” is a much more dangerous prospect as you get older, and Kenner’s Food, INC. is great way to open your eyes to some of the crap you’ve been consuming for the past four years. Being scared straight (into living healthy) is not the worst plan.

Keep Your Friends Close

Recommendation: Garden State

Dazed, former child actor Andrew Largeman returns to his home in New Jersey to attend his mother’s funeral and winds up reconnecting with the friends he left behind. He comes to the realization that his life, consisting mostly of popping antidepressants, daydreaming of crashing in an airplane and mumbling, isn’t all that great and maybe what he’s missing is a few of these people. And a shirt that matches the wallpaper in his house.

Normally I wouldn’t recommend Zach Braff’s hipster magnum opus, but underneath the quirk and indie music is something worth recognizing. You meet a lot of people in school: close friends, acquaintances, chance encounters – but with social media becoming more prevalent, it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain the actual relationships you’ve spent time building. Facebook stalking is easy; having a foundation of people you can talk to isn’t. Don’t find yourself screaming in the rain from atop a boulder to a Shins song ten years from now. Just keep in touch in the first place.

Most Importantly: Take Some Risks and Don’t Forget What You Want to Do

Recommendation: The Truman Show

Truman doesn’t know any life besides the one he’s been dictated to live, a sitcom-perfect existence with nary a flaw to see. He has stability, and when he dreams of escaping to Fiji, his friends and family bring him back down to Earth. Eventually he recognizes that his utopia isn’t perfect, that normal people don’t talk in commercial slogans and that he doesn’t need to stay grounded forever. So he takes his boat into the great unknown and finds the door on the other side of the ocean. Quite poetic.

You may not know it, but your entire life is actually an elaborate reality TV show. Just kidding! Maybe.

As you find your footing in this new and exciting world, don’t forget about the things that really drive you, the reasons you went to college in the first place. Comfort is nice, but living the way you want is important. Never feel like you can’t make a bold step, even if it’s in a radically different direction or against the norm. Else, you’re really just acting in another person’s show.

Now, why don’t you go fix yourself a cup of MoCocoa drink, all natural cocoa beans from the upper slopes of Mt. Nicaragua and no artificial sweeteners. I’ve tasted other cocoas, and that’s the best.

We make other lists, ya know