I’ve officially attended 5 high school graduation ceremonies (that I can remember): 3 because I was in orchestra and we had to play Pomp and Circumstance in an eternal loop, 1 that was my own, and just recently went to 1 to support a friend.
Joy was contagious as the kids crossed the stage and shouts echoed through the auditorium from the bubble where their family sat. Most of the kids smiled and rushed to get out of the spotlight, but three graduates made a quick dab (like the featured photo), one surprised the audience by tossing off his gown and turning into Uncle Sam, and two made peace signs and accepted their diploma with enough sass to turn the world on its axis. But the speeches were—and still are—my favorite part.
Back in my day graduation speeches were full of “you’re amazing”s and “I love you”s sprinkled with some “you can change the world”s. While these phrases pull a few tears, I sat in the fold up chair wearing a white, Hogwarts-esque cloak and thought, “How do you know if I’ll change the world? You never talked to me. I haven’t done anything truly amazing. Do you tell everyone you love them?”
Eight years later I found that graduation speakers regurgitate the same sentiments, whether they’re true or not.
If you’re a recent graduate—be excited. There’s an overwhelming-yet-fantastic adventure ahead. But there are a few things I wish were shared in those speeches instead of the typical greeting card salutations. I wrote about gap years and starting college already, but here are three bits to add to your basket of wanted or unwanted advice:
1. It’s not going to be easy.
I rarely heard this statement, but if it’s mentioned at all it’s usually followed by “but don’t worry because you’re awesome and I love you.”
I was a straight-C student when I graduated. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand my classes—I was bored. Instead of being a teacher’s dream, I enjoyed the rush that comes when you take a test and get a good grade without bothering to read a chapter or do the homework. Sorry teachers!
I was pleasantly surprised and slightly distraught to learn that there are even more challenges after graduation. Sometimes it seems like there are 10 to the tenth opportunities coming and going at any moment. You have to work hard to take a step towards the goals you want, and you may need to burn the safety net to reach them.
You’re not entitled to a good life.
No one is going to hand you happiness.
You are the one who climbs the mountain and dares to leap across the abyss.
If you’re a Christian, the good news is you have a tour-guide on that mountain. When we listen to the still-small voice and follow through, we can avoid misplacing our steps and the things we carry become a lot lighter. The bad news is even with a guide it’s not going to be easy, rather at times it might be more difficult to follow his instructions.
2. You’ll never discover who you are.
Did I just crush your spirit like a grape? Well, I’ve been there too. At 11 years old I wanted discover who I was, so I spent middle school, high school, and several years after graduation pursuing that quest. The voice of Mufasa from the Lion King rang in my head, “Remember who you are.”
I desperately wanted to know who I was so I would have something to remember.
But I’m learning that who I am isn’t written in stone somewhere waiting to be unearthed. Not yet anyway…Who I am is in the little choices I make every day. When I see a dog and a bicyclist about to attach each other on the side of the road and I pull my car over to make sure the two part ways unharmed. When my coworker needs help with a project and I help. When I could spend time with people or spend time doing laundry and I choose people for so long that I’m forced to wear forgotten, wrinkled shirts stuffed at the back of the drawer. Maybe you would have chosen differently. There’s not a right or wrong answer. These choices make up who I am.
What choices make up you?
3. Failures are as good as successes.
I actually had to go back to school to learn this one. In my college business courses I learned as much about myself as I did business management.
Did you know failing isn’t the worst possible outcome? Far from it. Penicillin was a mistake. Post-it notes were a mistake. And we all know the tale of Edison’s lightbulb, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” (Uh oh. Now I can’t stop reading these great Edison quotes…)
If we try, we will fail. But if we keep learning and trying from what we learn, we will succeed. I think Zuko, my favorite character from Avatar the Last Airbender, said it best:
Turns out, this list is a reminder for myself as much a high school grad or anyone else. When life gets tough, be glad that it’s not easy and boring. Remember that “who you are” is in the little moments of every day. And embrace failure as a friend—a helpful, refining fire. To all the graduating seniors I urge you, now that you’re free from the K-12 life, roll up your sleeves and start to climb that mountain I mentioned earlier. 😉
If you graduated from high school before this year: what advice would you like to add?
If you just graduated from high school I’d like to know: is there’s anything you want to know more about?
Karianne is the founder of Windmill Ways. She plays the cello professionally and currently works as an Art Director for a charity. Because she loves animated shows and movies, she studies 3D animation and graduated with a BFA with the unfortunate class of 2020. Her dream vacation would be just staying home, but "home" being a glamorous cabin somewhere in the mountains surrounded by forest.
Favorite band: Lord Huron
Favorite book: This Present Darkness
Favorite quote: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT)
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