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posted: 5/6/2013 8:27 AM

Lisle leaders offer life advice for May graduates

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As graduates count down the days that remain to the end of school, former graduates respond to two imminent questions: What is the best advice you ever received as a graduate? What is the best advice you offer graduates?"

For Peter Sullivan, principal of Lisle High School, his replies to both questions are identical. He passes on tried-and-true ideas to his graduates and his own children.

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"My parents talked to me on the occasions of my graduations about working to find things that were important to me in my life," Sullivan said. "They told me to use the college experience to learn about myself, my passions and my interests."

When Sullivan was in college, his parents took their advice to another level to say, "When you consider careers, make sure that whatever you decide to do is something you think is more important than anything else."

Sullivan reflects on his 25 years as an educator, knowing it is a value he holds in high esteem.

As the dean of students at Benet Academy, Marty Wiora passes along two bits of advice to graduates at the Lisle school.

"Even if a particular teacher has pushed you harder than you thought reasonable, don't burn bridges," and "If your experience in a particular teacher's class was very positive, don't leave without telling him or her."

Wiora says it is a great reward for a teacher when a student acknowledges the impact a teacher had on his or her life.

The best advice Wiora ever received was from his academic adviser at Northern Illinois University when Wiora voiced his apprehension at taking the comprehensive oral exams prior to earning his master's degree in history.

"(Professor Carl Parrini) simply looked across the desk at me and said, 'Work; don't worry,'" Wiora said. "It didn't completely calm my fears, but it certainly was nice to hear that if I applied myself to the best of my ability, I would have done all I could."

Shannon Halikias, executive director at the Lisle Library District, understands that graduation can be disconcerting and condensed her advice to two simple words: fearless and grateful.

"Be fearless in your life exploration and learn to be really grateful," Halikias said. "Be fearless in challenging yourself so that you will have all the opportunities that your life may hold for you; be grateful for what is truly of value in your life."

Halikias elaborated on those two points, adding to be fearless in speaking the truth, in hearing wisdom, and in being a catalyst for positive change. She spelled out that grateful is not for a nice car or brand names, but rather for community, family and connections that make a person feel alive and well.

"The happiest people I know in life are the ones that are open in their spirit and comfortable in their skins," Halikias said.

Editor of the Fifth Wednesday Journal, Lisle resident Vern Miller publishes poetry, short fiction, essays and photography of promising artists in a biannual literary publication.

As a retired college teacher and administrator, Miller said he tries to avoid giving advice beyond how to write, a good restaurant or comfortable shoes.

"The best I can say to others now is to repeat what a stranger in an employment agency said to me (a long time ago), 'Don't treat the next thing in your life like an obstacle to fight, ever; rather treat it like a challenge.'"

Lisle business owner Diane Merna started her career as a teacher and now owns her own insurance brokerage, Adler Associates Ltd. She was one of the Daily Herald's 2012 Influential Women in Business honorees. Merna's father encouraged her to keep her options open.

"My dad would always say, 'Don't try to fit a square peg in a round hole,'" Merna said. "In other words, keep your options open and reassess your choices."

Benet Academy history teacher Bryan Kibilowski received his best advice from his supervising teacher. Early on in his career, he was advised to remember that no matter how interesting or dynamic you are, some students simply won't like you. To be the best teacher possible, your goal is to give all students every opportunity to be successful.

President of the Lisle Unit District 202 school board, Pam Ahlmann spoke before the last six graduating classes at Lisle High School. She personalizes her delivery to include each class's unique characteristics.

"I find a lot of good advice from Robert Fulghum's book, 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,'" Ahlmann said. "Live a balanced life and be aware of wonder.

"I have asked (graduates) to look ahead and learn from where they have been; to follow their passion; and continue to be lifelong learners," Ahlmann added.

Erma Bombeck was a writer with a talent for turning words into humorous wisdom. When she was a commencement speaker at one of State Sen. Michael Connelly's graduations, he remembers her saying, "The key to a happy life is to focus on doing good not doing well."

A few useful quotes include one from poet Maya Angelou, who wrote, "Let nothing dim the light that shines from within."

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind," by Dr. Seuss.

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known," by Carl Sagan.

• Joan Broz writes about Lisle regularly for Neighbor.

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