Let’s be honest: I might think of myself as an old fart (I mean, I’m in bed by 10pm almost every night) but it has been less than eight years since I was in your shoes, just about to graduate high school. I was staring up at this woman talking about her struggles as a female engineering student, how hard it was for her to be taken seriously, how hard she had to work, all the while wondering what that had to do with me. Now that I’m older, I can understand where she was coming from with trying to help us realize that the path we had our eyes set on may throw the occasional bump or two (or three hundred) in our way. Still, even today l don’t understand what her life story had to do with me. What I wanted to hear was advice. What I wanted to know was what to expect. What I needed was the reassurance that even when things were tough, I–not her–would be able to make it through.
You are woefully unprepared for college. Not because your education is inadequate–although yeah, it totally is–but because you and I have been fed all the possible lies in the known universe about what college is like. Sure, professors might not really care if you turn in homework or not, but they will keep track. I mean, why else would they give it, even if it is busy work? Attendance is important. I automatically failed a class if I missed more than three days. You don’t have to take notes, but you’ll fail without them. You can go to your dream school, even if it costs an arm and a leg, but do you really want to, knowing that you’ll spend the next twenty years afterwards trying to pay off the ridiculous debt you’ve accumulated? There are parties, but partying and drinking and doing drugs is an absolutely sure-fire way of failing out of college. Everything in moderation, including the endless amount of cookies available for consumption at your future cafeteria.
You don’t have to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. If you have some vague idea, that’s awesome. Good for you. Go with it. Chances are you might change your mind or grow to hate it. If you haven’t the slightest idea, that’s cool too. College is there to help you figure it out by giving you a bunch of chances to learn different things. Explore the possibilities. Take a pottery class. Learn about the way the world works. Read all the ancient literature there is available. Become one with the stars. You might find out that you like something you hadn’t ever tried before. Maybe that will inspire you to be more than you ever thought possible. If the answer still doesn’t come to you, that’s okay. Just go with what you enjoy, otherwise you might burn out.
And if you do burn out, it’s okay. You can take breaks. You can sit and cry and wonder about your life choices. You can call your parents and ask about a year off. You can be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do–and you should. Yet you should also know when you need help. Visit the school’s counselor. Talk to your professors and air your concerns about an assignment or the class or your grade. Talk to your friends and be there for them when they may be struggling, just as they should be there for when you’re having a difficult time. Pause, contemplate, take care of yourself. Mental and physical health is important now and forever. That takes precedence over almost anything. You won’t be able to accomplish your goals if you’re sick in any way, so concentrate on always being at your optimal best.
Finally, high school and the people in it really aren’t that important in the great scheme of things. You don’t have to stay friends with everyone. You will grow up and you will change. You will realize that the things you thought funny will no longer bring a smile to your face. Your friends may remain stagnant and unable to grow out of their high school shells. They might not want to hang out with you anymore. This is all okay because you will meet new people, in college and beyond, and they will all have a place in your life. Some people will enter a chapter and last til the end of the book. Someone might only be mentioned in brief passing. Life is a story and not all characters are relevant, not all will make it to the end of the book, and everyone must change and evolve. The chapter that is high school is now over. A new chapter means the story is moving forward.
Nothing will ever be truly easy. You will face many challenges in all shapes and forms, with classes and people and relationships and bills and loans. Mistakes will happen. But you live and you learn, and that’s what will keep you going forward. Your reward will be having lived as best as you could, treading softly, impacting lives positively, loving and caring and doing good as much as possible. We are here today because our ancestors strove to do better, to correct wrongs, to forgive past mistakes. We have to do the same so our future can live even better. Start by being good to yourself and doing the best you can.
Your future is only what you make of it. Your destiny is yours to determine. Don’t let anyone decide for you. Only you truly know what’s best for you.