3 lessons from an honorary graduate

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

No, not me. In this post, I share some advice from honorary 2018 Aston University graduate, Farhan Sharaff. Now Senior Managing Director at Guggenheim Partners, Sharaff undertook an incredible journey to study at the university as a teenager, before helping to establish the Aston University in Americas Foundation in 2016.


On Friday, after four years of hard work, I became an Aston University graduate with first class honours in BSc Linguistics.


I could have written a post thanking everyone who has supported me throughout those four years, but there are simply too many to mention. To my friends, family, lecturers, mentors and colleagues… Thank you doesn't cut it.


Instead, then, I wanted to share three lessons from honorary 2018 graduate Farhan Sharaff who spoke at the ceremony. Sharaff enolled at Aston in 1974 after hitch-hiking from Pakistan to the UK as a teenager to complete his studies.


Speaking with the clarity of thought and conviction of someone who had turned their early passion for education into a lifelong love of learning, Sharaff offered some sage advice to new graduates like myself. These tips were based on his own experiences throughout a varied, successful and rewarding career, first in the field of engineering and later in finance.


1. Don't be afraid to fail


This might sound clichéd. But not so from a man who travelled alone across Europe and beyond in his teens for the right to study. Sharaff faced his fair share of setbacks and close shaves. Yet his willingness to take a risk, his right to stumble along the way and, more importantly, his resolve to carry on in the face of adversity is a lesson to us all.


2. Build a social network


Far from Instagram or Facebook, Sharaff explained meaningful relationships are made face to face. Encouraging us all to get to know as many people from as many different sectors and backgrounds as possible, he recalled how, in his experience, people are only too willing to offer their time to those who ask for it. Don't be afraid to reach out and help others where you can, it's amazing how many will help you in return.


3. Never stop learning


Last but not least, Sharaff declared the learning journey had only just begun. In his view, it is between the age of 25 and 30 - when given the opportunity to apply your knowledge outside the realms of academia - that you start to consolidate your learning. And only after this point that you begin to pay back the fruits of this knowledge to yourself, your peers and society as a whole.


In a highly competitive and volatile marketplace, the importance of a commitment to lifelong learning cannot be understated. This has never been truer than in the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning. As Sharaff explained, 'Don't get angry, get smarter'.

I've written before about the impact of AI in PR and it's one of the key drivers behind my own commitment to CPD.


Being intellectually curious shouldn't end when you leave university. Your degree equips you with the critical thinking and transferable skills needed to apply this curiosity in every aspect of life. So take a leaf out of Sharaff's book; nurture it, ask questions and stay curious.


Read more about Sharaff's incredible story here.


Want to share your thoughts on any of the above? I’m always interested to hear feedback on the blog so please get in touch via the comments section below, email me at clairesimpsonpr [at] outlook [dot] com or drop me a line on social media.

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© 2018 Claire Simpson​.