Ah, graduation. So much excitement, so much to think about! Whether the grad in your life is concerned with a job hunt, finances or big dreams, these five books offer guidance and humor for those dipping a toe in the real-world waters.

STRAIGHT TALK

When Charles Wheelan gave a commencement-weekend speech at his alma mater, Dartmouth, in 2011, he vowed to avoid platitudes and instead offer honest, useful advice—collected here, in 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. Rather than reminding students that “commencement means beginning,” he shared things he wishes he’d heard at his own college graduation, like “Some of your worst days lie ahead” and “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.” No need for alarm, though—Wheelan isn’t advocating a gloomy outlook or post-graduation visits to the local Delta Tau Whatever. Rather, he’s letting graduates know that there will be “grinding self-doubt and failure” along with joy and success, and the camaraderie you build during college is invaluable. He’s right, of course, and his other exhortations are similarly witty and wise. Slyly humorous illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner add to the fun.

FLY HIGH

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has been a household name since he executed an emergency airplane landing on the Hudson River in 2009. His memoir, Highest Duty, was a bestseller; now, he’s back with Making a Difference, a book about other people’s outstanding achievements. His subjects—standouts in government, education, business and more—have all faced adversity, and their responses to difficult, even horrible, situations showed character and solidified leadership. For example, when Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen was called to duty after Hurricane Katrina, he was tapped to replace the head of FEMA after just one week. When Allen explained to his team what needed to be done, their relief was palpable; someone was finally offering priorities and support. “This was a leadership moment for which Allen . . . had been preparing for his whole life,” writes Sullenberger. That theme resonates in the book, as does the importance of caring for those who work for you. Aspiring leaders will find plenty to emulate.

LIVING THE DREAM

Six years ago, while commiserating over post-college angst, four young men decided to amp up the bucket-list concept: They’d strike out and achieve their dreams—no matter how quirky or impossible-seeming—while helping others do the same. What began as a tour in a Winne­bago turned into much more: an MTV reality show; more than 80 life-list items accomplished; and the publication of What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?. For the book, the four guys—known collectively as The Buried Life—asked artists to illustrate the kooky and poignant dreams of their fans. The collages alternate with heartfelt essays by the guys, and other inspiring achievers. There are also photos of the gang with a variety of people, including President Obama (#95); a newborn (#74); and security guards trying to stop them from streaking in a stadium (#50). Not only is this collection interesting, but its colorful pages could serve as inexpensive artwork for a first apartment.  

FINANCIAL FINESSE

Personal finance expert Jack Otter believes that with emotions in check and information in hand, money matters can be managed well and with confidence. In Worth It . . . Not Worth It?, he empowers the new generation to make good decisions about spending, noting, “Most money decisions seem complicated only because someone has a financial interest in confusing you.” Otter, executive editor of CBSMoneyWatch.com, addresses “either/or” propositions regarding credit cards, loans, travel, real estate, investing and more; the “Getting Started” section is aimed at students/recent graduates/first-job-holders (e.g., Live with Mom and Dad vs. Go Solo in Squalor). The book’s eye-catching graphics and spare, pithy text make a complete read-through painless, even for the finance-shy. This guide will be a valuable, much-used resource for long-term planning, daily decisions and whatever crops up in between.

LAYING THE GROUNDWORK

In Getting from College to Career, an updated guide to, oh, everything graduates need to do before even thinking about job interviews, Lindsey Pollak offers tips, commiseration and humor. After all, while she may be a LinkedIn spokesperson and best-selling author, she wasn’t always a media star. When it was time to find her first job, she was stumped. Then, she called internship contacts, bought a suit, made lists—and landed an offer. A multi-pronged approach succeeded, but, “The challenge is that you never know which combination will ultimately work, so you have to try them all.” Pollak’s voice is friendly yet authoritative, and her advice is detailed but not overwhelming. This is a truly useful guide that will make resume-writing and job-interviewing a whole lot easier. Now go get ’em!

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