Dear High School Graduate
When I walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma, I felt all of the things I was supposed to feel: excited, energized, and so happy to be done.
I even cried a little, saying goodbye to all of the teachers and friends that had made such a positive and lasting impact on my life. But then came the very daunting task of turning the page and starting a new chapter in my life: college. Suddenly, I was less excited and energized, and more overwhelmed and scared.
Let me fast forward a bit and tell you that my early 20's were some of the hardest years of my life so far, so that's why as graduation season begins, I feel no envy for an 18-year-old kid about to embark on a journey that I've felt I only recently completed (maybe almost completed?).
Young adulthood is the worst and the best all at the same time, and it can also be a time of profound growth and change. So now that I'm 25 and feel a little less traumatized by the whole experience, here's what I learned from barely making it through my early 20's:
No, you don't actually have to go to college. You really don't.
Your parents, teachers, friends, and basically the entire world might tell you otherwise, but I know after interacting with hundreds of students and meeting lots of people who chose a different path, that you will actually be okay (and not fall into drugs or prostitution) if you choose not to go to college.
Maybe you want to take a gap year and travel.
Maybe you'll work for a year and find you want to get a college degree a few years later.
Maybe you'll go for one semester and see how you like it.
Maybe you won't go at all.
There's no law or doctrine mandating college for all 18-year-old's. Part of growing up is learning to listen to your gut. And to be transparent, college was the right choice for me and I loved every second of it, but I've learned that not everyone is ready to take that step three months after graduating from high school.
Forget stamps or rare coins! You'll be an avid collector of identities!
I think I probably had some sort of identity crisis every week. College definitely contributed to it but overall, I'm so grateful to have spent the time confronting my own privileges, and beliefs, and assumptions I have about the world.
At this point, it's kind of cliche to write about identity issues and 20-somethings, but that's only because it's true and really important.
Question what you know and who you are, and chase your curiosity.
I'm just gonna say it: there are drugs, alcohol and sex.
I'm not your mother. Just be safe*, kids. And let's be real, you probably already know all about this.
*If you don't know how to be safe, then please ask Google or someone you trust. I too went to a very small (aka small-minded) high school and know that sometimes you have to be your own teacher.
Let yourself feel things.
I spent most of my time wandering in and out of classrooms, reading too many books, writing angst-y poetry, and crying about everything. (Note: this is the actual definition of cliche.)
The shitty thing about confronting your own identity, beliefs, and assumptions, is the pain and loss that comes with it. So mourn, cry, and wait patiently for the awesome part that comes after (more about the awesome part later).
Hold on to your friends.
Life as a twenty-year-old sucks even more when you isolate yourself. So don't.
And to be clear: a friend is someone who let's you be yourself, and who has genuine concern for you. Just to be clear.
So yes graduate, throwing your cap into the air and tucking a high school diploma under your arm is an amazing experience and an awesome accomplishment, and what comes next is absolutely overwhelming and scary.
But if you let it, the next few years of your life can also be extremely profound and extremely fun too.
So get ready.