A Speech to the Graduating Kindergarten Class of 2015

Kidnergarten graduation

My daughter graduated from kindergarten back in June. While there weren’t any caps, gowns, valedictorians or diplomas, the ceremony did have about 100 singing children, lots of beaming parents and grandparents, and plenty of chocolate cake.

Having attended my fair share of graduations, the kindergartners have it right: keep things short and sweet, and no speeches. But just in case an emergency speaker was called for, I’d prepared a few remarks to share with the graduating kindergarten class of 2015 and their parents.

• Never stop asking questions. The world can be a confusing place. If you don’t understand how something works, ask. At some point people are going to stop telling you things unless you start asking about them. And if you don’t like the answers to your questions, ask again or ask someone else. Unless it’s about why you can’t have ice cream for dinner. You can stop asking about that. The answer is always going to be no.

• Don’t be afraid to take risks… They build jungle gyms for a reason. It feels good to climb that high or to make it across the monkey bars without anyone’s help. It’s scary, but it’s worth it. The year before my daughter was born, I made a decision to change my career and cast aside what I’d studied in college and graduate school to become a personal financial planner. It was terrifying. But at the same time it felt incredible to start a career where I was excited about going to work every day. The risk paid off.

• …but try to make sure those risks are worth it. There’s a difference between going down the 2-story water slide or trying out for the lead in the school play and not wearing your helmet when you’re riding your bike. Some risks are worth taking, some are better left alone.

• Ask your parents to teach you about money. Aside from raising kids with good moral compasses, one of the best things we can do for our children is to teach them how money works. Parents, if you don’t think you know, then take it upon yourselves to learn. For better or worse, we pass on our own “money scripts” to our children. If we want our kids to have a positive, healthy relationship with money, we need to model it for them. An excellent place to start is Ron Lieber’s new book The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.

• It’s never too early to start saving… In his book, Lieber describes a system that he’s established with his kids, where whenever his kids receive money they break it into equal parts to put into one of three “pots”: spending, saving and giving. This system can help teach kids the importance of putting something away for later, as well as the importance of helping those that are less fortunate. We’re now doing the same thing in our house, complete with self-designed banks.

savings jars

• …but that doesn’t mean you have to save everything. Sometimes we have a tendency to go too far when we talk about saving. It’s ok to spend money. Just know why you’re spending it. It’s perfectly fine to buy yourself a treat now and then. But we need to remember that constantly buying things to try to make ourselves happy usually doesn’t work out too well in the long run. [1]

• Find something you love to do. At various points in her life, my daughter has expressed an interest to be, among other things, an artist, an illustrator, an author, a doctor, a singer, a baseball player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, a professor, someone who works with animals in the jungle, and a princess. [2] We end up spending more time at work than just about anywhere else. Try to have that time be spent doing something that you love.

If you ever find yourself in need of a graduation speaker or financial planning advice, please let us know!

1. For an excellent book on this topic, try Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.

2. So far, my son’s only ambitions are to be a race car driver or a daddy. I haven’t told him yet that those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

About Ben Birken

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