National Center for Education Statistics predicts that 1.8 million students in the U.S. will receive a bachelor’s degree this year. That’s good news for those of us who’ve worked so hard to recruit, retain, and help those students succeed in college.

The Big Day

A sea of mortar boards. Waves of hope and fear. Pride. Tears. Maybe a few regrets. A little pomp and circumstance, some awkward photos, and it’s all over. Your students become alumni and disappear into their lives.

Will Your Friendship Survive?

It doesn’t have to end this way. A college degree lasts a lifetime; many college friendships will, too. Your challenge is whether they will stay friends with their alma mater. So, what kind of friend will you be to your new alumni?

Stay Classy

What they fear is that you’re going to be that hapless friend who’s always looking for a handout. This is the season to make sure they stay connected to your more sterling qualities. If you’ve done your homework on your brand, you know what those are. How do you keep sharing these qualities with your alumni?

Keep in Touch

Reunions and magazines are fine, but they’re intermittent. Social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, for example) give you a more continuous and consistent means for staying in touch with your young alumni. Be present on social media; be interested in them. They are living the stories that you will want to tell—why not follow the story now, before it has shape? More than anything, be a consistent presence in their world.

That Great Job? That’s So Last Year.

These graduates may need some consistency. Between now and their five-year reunion, they are likely to change jobs three to four times. On average, we in the U.S. stay at a given job for just under five years; younger workers average less than three years. And one-year stints aren’t uncommon at all for this group.

“[F]or newly minted college graduates, job-hopping can speed career advancement…[and] can also lead to greater job fulfillment, which is more important to Gen Y workers than it was to any previous generation,” explains Jeanne Meister in Forbes.

Four-Year Degree, Four-Year Career?

Look around and you see a pattern of changing not just jobs, but careers—diving in and out of a specialization in four years or less. The portfolio life, or quicksilver work, as it’s been called, is the new normal not just because of economic pressures but because of people’s growing demand for freedom, flexibility, and meaning.

Be Their Rock

So, how can you befriend people who are not settling down? Certainly, you can help them stay connected to each other. Alumni groups within social media are a natural way for people to grow their connections within familiar venues and values. Suggest some get-togethers that are fun and social—or maybe those that serve a shared cause or provide an opportunity to share what they’re learning with each other.

They Will Keep Learning

Anya Kamanetz notes for Fast Company that “all these changes put more pressure on the individual—to provide our own health care, bridge gaps in income with savings, manage our own retirement planning, and invest in our own education to keep skills marketable and up to date.” Life skills, career interventions, and continuing education—sounds like they need a friend who’s also a college or university.

To Make a Friend, Be a Friend

I keep saying “friend,” even if that seems an odd word for an institution, because it’s a key flavor for developing your social media presence and personality. Social media doesn’t work best as an outlet for tightly controlled institutional messaging. Social media works for people—people who value the places they work, who invest in similar values, but who are, first and foremost, individual humans, interacting with other human beings. That’s why it’s called social.

Someone You Actually Like

“I hate networking,” says one career-changer Kamanetz spoke with. Instead of networking, she says, “maintain a wide range of relationships with people you actually like.” Social media is a natural place to maintain those relationships these days, so talk to your favorite seniors before they disappear. Ask if you can stay in touch. Then do. Follow them on Twitter if nothing else—they are out there living your brand. You gotta see that.

At the risk of sounding like a graduation speech, remember that this is not the end of a story, but the start of many. And isn’t that grand?

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