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I am probably going to cry at graduation this year. I avoided crying last semester when I left the P.I. Reed School of Journalism at WVU by not attending graduation (Kristen, I would have been sobbing watching you walk across the stage). I didn’t have to worry about crying at other WVU graduation ceremonies as I had never had any seniors graduating (I taught the intro and 300-400 level courses, never the capstones).

This semester at LSU I have 36 seniors who will be walking across the stage. In my short time at the Manship School of Mass Communication I have formed a bond with the members of the Public Relations Campaigns course. These students did amazing work for several local nonprofits: SmokingWords, Istrouma Sports Organization, Gaitway Theraputic Horsemanship, Baton Rouge Area Alcohol and Drug Center, Louisiana Delta Service Corps and Playmakers. Each group faced its own set of challenges – they faced many ups and downs this semester – but they came through with style. I am so proud of all they accomplished in my classroom and for their clients!

On Friday, May 18 when this group of talented seniors walk across the stage and turn into graduates I will be so happy for them and so sad to see them go. They put up with all my sarcasm, weird stories and my strange sense of humor. They even took it like champs when my red pen bled all over their papers. They are my first group of seniors and they will always hold a very special place in my heart. I just hope they are o.k. with me sobbing like a baby.

I tried to impart some PR wisdom in the classroom and throughout their projects, but I want to use this blog to impart one last lesson. Now that you are out of my class  I want each and every one of you to learn how to say “no.” I leave this lesson until graduation because I didn’t want you practicing your “no” skills on me:)

However, going forward this will be something you need to know how to say. I speak from experience and as someone still struggling with saying “no.”

My first professional job after college was as the media relations director for the Grand Rapids Hoops basketball team, a team in the Continental Basketball Association. Within my first month there the public relations director got “called up” to work for an NBA team. It was right before the season began and the Hoops had no time to fill his position. I was asked to help fill in, and then to take over, his responsibilities. I was swamped with my duties as media relations director, but wanted to prove myself indispensable to the organization so I said “yes.” Thus, I became the media and public relations director for a minor league basketball team owned by Isiah Thomas.

For a year I had no life outside of Hoops basketball. As the media relations person I was on-call 24/7. I also did all the programs, the media kits, the stats updates; took the players and the mascot to all the promotions, interviews, and meet-n-greets; prepared all the press conferences, draft and recruiting parties and charity functions and even had the honor of taking players to the airport when they were cut from the team. The latter was not my responsibility, but because I had no idea how to say no to anything I ended up doing it anyway. Needless to say, I was tired, frustrated and my work had begun to suffer. Because I had allowed myself to be pulled in so many directions I was not performing at my optimal level on anything.

At the end of my first year I was completely burnt-out and left the Hoops organization feeling as though I had not done anywhere near my best. I took a position as the community relations director for the St. Paul Saints baseball team. Why? Because after evaluating my performance with the Hoops I had come to the conclusion that the stuff I enjoyed the most about my job – and the things I had done the best – were the ones where I got to work with the community. I wanted to focus on perfecting the things I was best at and on saying “no” to the rest.

If you never learn how to say “no” you stretch yourself too thin. You never get to excel at anything because you are too busy trying to do everything. And one thing I learned the hard way is that you cannot do everything well. Something has to give. Something at work or something in your personal life will suffer. You must learn how to say ‘NO.”

This article gives you five pointers on how to say “no” without losing your business-cred. I especially like number 5 as I often find myself needing the time to think through how to respond.

With that last lesson we are done. Now, don’t make me sob at graduation and live long and prosper:)