This is a wonderful time of year. It’s not just because the summer heat is rolling in, the pools are opening, and ice cream is even more refreshing. For a select handful of young people, it’s the finish line that once seemed so far. At long last, graduation day has arrived. High school is ending. The last pit stop on your way to adulthood is finally behind you.
I know those in college are just as excited, but I would argue that high school graduation is more meaningful. For many kids in their late teens, it’s the first major milestones of their adult life. Finally, the legally required schooling and the rigid structure surrounding it has been fulfilled. Now, they can finally make their own choices about their future.
It’s exciting, scary, nerve-racking, and overwhelming, even for those who have fond memories of high school. I consider those people lucky. I certainly wasn’t one of them. I’ve gone on record as saying that I hated high school. It seems like the older I get, the more reasons I find to justify that hatred.
Some of that experience was my fault. I was an all-around miserable teenager, for the most part. It’s not just that I’m terrible at standardized tests and endured more than a few awkward moments. For me, the entire high school experience felt like one big personal setback. What I learned didn’t feel useful. The skills I really needed were never offered or emphasized.
I suspect others, including a few about to graduate, feel the same way. They’re probably the most eager to put high school behind them and nobody would blame them. To them, I can only offer reassurance and confidence.
It will get better. I know that sounds like bumper sticker philosophy, but it’s true. Life after high school, however miserable it might have been, does get better. Sometimes, it gets better the second after graduation because everything afterwards feels like an improvement. You still have to put in the effort, but it’s definitely worth doing. I can personally attest to that.
However, I don’t just want to speak to those who hated high school, nor do I want to overlook those who had it far worse than me. To those who thrived, grew, and matured over the course of their formative years, this is for you too. To everyone who navigated this strange and chaotic time of their youth, I’d like to offer my perspective and it can be summed up in one simple statement.
The world is an amazing place and you haven’t experienced a fraction of it.
That’s not a criticism. It’s not meant to undercut everything you’ve learned in during your high school education, either. I tell you this to remind you that you’re still young. You’ve been on this ever-evolving world for less than two decades. Look how much has changed in that brief span of time. Can you begin to imagine how much it’ll change two decades from now?
You’re part of that change. It won’t just happen around you. It’ll happen through you. You’re not just kids anymore. By the letter of the law and by the growth you’ve had to this point, you are young adults. You will have a say in how this change manifests. It may not be as large or as small as you prefer, but you will have an influence. At this critical junction of your lives, that’s worth celebrating.
Now, you’re going to hear all sorts of uplifting and encouraging messages in the coming weeks. You’ll also hear a few that are cynical and jaded. At this very moment, you can find excuses to believe that the world is going to Hell and it’s dragging you along for the ride. You can just as easily find excuses to believe the world is getting better and you’ll be among the beneficiaries.
There’s enough information out there to justify any opinion. I’m not going to tell you which you should embrace, but I will urge you to choose your attitude wisely. If you learn nothing else from the encouragements and platitudes of graduation, I hope you learn this. Your choices matter and so does your attitude. It will depend on how you experience the world moving forward.
Make no mistake. There’s a lot to experience. Whether you’re going to college, pursuing a trade, joining the military, or entering the workforce, you have an vast world before you. That world is going to challenge you. At times, it’s going to hurt. You’re going to feel offended, angry, and lost. It’s unavoidable in a world that’s so chaotic, unfair, and complex.
At the same time, it’s full of excitement, wonder, and mystery. Your understanding of the world right now will change and grow immensely in the coming years. You’ll realize how wrong you were about some things and how right you were about others. In the process, you’ll see just how much more there is to experience.
It’ll change you.
It’ll inspire you.
It’ll excite you.
Every generation likes to believe that theirs is the most important in history. While it may seem self-serving, it’s not entirely wrong. That’s because your generation is here. You’re alive now during these incredible times. You’re about to venture into this amazing world in search of your own experiences. That makes your lives, your choices, and your futures all the more impactful.
There’s only so much anyone can offer in terms of advice that every graduating senior can use. My high school experience was unique, as was all of yours. Even if you forget your ability to pass a standardized test or finish an essay at two in the morning, there are some lessons from high school that are worth carrying forward.
For one, don’t limit your perspective. Never assume you or anyone around you has all the answers. Few things in this world adhere to expectations or ideals. There will always be insights, surprises, and revelations that shatter your pre-conceived notions.
Second, embrace the bigger, scarier world before you and its flaws. Your limited life experiences make everything seem daunting. At times, you’ll want to run and hide from it. I encourage you to be bold and run towards it. With the inescapable bad comes the incredibly good. It’s worth experiencing and it’ll show you who you really are.
Finally, don’t feel like you have to go it alone. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easy to feel small. It’s also easy to feel like you have to chart your own path and relying on others is a crutch. I promise you that notion is false. Other people aren’t a liability. They’re a strength that you can and should channel, wherever your lives take you.
We’re all in this together. Young or old, we all inhabit the same world. We all work, struggle, and connect to find our place in it. I like to think I’ve forged an interesting, but meaningful path in my journey. Yes, there are things I wish I had done differently. No, I don’t agonize over them, nor should you.
All that said, I welcome you, the graduating class of 2019, into this amazing world. Today, you’ve taken the first step in a much larger journey. I can’t promise you much, but I will say this. It’s a journey worth taking.