Watching all the fresh-faced, excited and happy graduates on Saturday was enjoyable. I was able to maintain an attitude free of cynicism for the entire day. As these young adults expressed their hopes for the future, I realized they are our hope. They are future decision-makers and influencers.
In some cases, of course, that fills me with trepidation, but that’s to be expected. I was proud for those who are bound for the military, headed to trade school, and immediately joining the work force just as I was the ones who garnered the more than $1 million in scholarships and grants to apply toward higher education. I hope they each achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves.
As is typical during graduation season, my mind went back (and it’s becoming a long haul at nearly 40 years!) to my own senior year at Timbo. I felt like I had things pretty much under control. I had chosen a field of study, received a scholarship to my chosen university, and had a plan to share an apartment with my sister Frances, who would also be starting college following six years in the Navy.
So, what do I know now that I wish I’d known then? If I could give advice to my 18-year-old self, what would I say?
I could have used a warning about how often I would feel totally defeated by the instances of not knowing something about how the college system works, or that good grades were not going to be as easily attained as they were in high school.
Honestly, though, there are things my 18-year-old self would not have believed:
• The boyfriend who is going to dump you this summer is not worth your tears, or
• The intramural basketball team you’re going to join won’t really consider you part of the team, or
• Your sister is going to beat you at badminton in a PE class if you don’t get the wrist-flick thing figured out.
That’s crazy talk!
A heads-up about going from being a big fish in a small pond to life as a regular fish in a large pond should not be overlooked. A university campus will be swimming with fishes of all sizes and odds are that a single individual from Stone County will not stand out (though a few this year definitely have potential). What makes this a bit easier at times is that the expectations that a big fish has in the home pond will be absent from the larger pond. Someone who has felt the weight of carrying whatever expectations their families and/or teachers may have placed on them will swim more freely, at least for awhile, I hope.
I wondered what other people might say to their youthful selves so I posed the question on Facebook. I didn’t ask if I could use the answers, so I won’t say who responded with each, but I thought the advice was worth sharing:
• Invest in Walmart, Apple and Microsoft.
• Live life to the fullest.
• Carpe diem!
• Never stop chasing your dreams and always stay close to God.
• Do not let anyone else decide your future.
• Follow your dreams.
• Believe in yourself, always.
• You may have to go down several different paths to figure out what speaks to you.
• Above all, be kind.
• Don’t get student loans; focus on building financial security.
• Play more with your children; your housekeeping will wait.
• Follow your heart and do what you love.
• Have fun; you don’t have to come home every weekend.
• Go to trade school instead of using student loans to get a degree.
• Don’t wait until your 30s to start saving and investing for your future.
• Always do your best.
• Maintain a circle of friends and family to support you during tough times ahead.
• Keep learning and don’t take things too seriously.
Connections Academy offers 26 tips for high school graduates, including some for stepping outside your comfort zone:
• Take calculated risks. Overcoming your fears and trying new things, even if it means making mistakes, is important for your personal growth.
• Go out of your way to visit new places, meet people, and test out various hobbies. You never know when you’ll stumble across something you really love.
• Build new friendships, but still make time to stay in touch with old friends.
• Take lots of pictures and start keeping a diary. It helps preserve your memories, reflect, and gain perspective. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget the little successes in life and focus on failures instead. Be careful, though, about what you post on social networks. Employers will often search for information about job candidates online, so think about how you want to present yourself before you post anything online.
(This bit about social networks is especially important. It may be time to delete that teen profile and start a new one where public content is carefully selected.)
It’s all a bit overwhelming, I know. As one of my friends said, keep your friends and family close because you will still need them. And believe me, they still need you.
Lori Freeze is news editor for the Leader. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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