If you donned a square, polyester hat and ill-fitting gown over the past few weeks, take a bow. Take a breath. Congratulate yourself. You’ve come a long way since crying over blocks in kindergarten and those unruly bangs in middle school.
Everyone has a different story after graduating high school. Top of your class. Somewhere in the middle. Maybe you grabbed that decorative certificate with sweaty hands like grim death after flailing through finals.
The important thing is that you made it. Anyone who says high school was easy doesn’t remember much about being a teenager. Classes come easier for some, but growing up is dreadful at times.
It doesn’t get much easier as an adult, but you have callouses, so you adjust. No one listens to you in your 20s. You’re often treated like a kid even when you’re not. There’s a new set of pressures and problems in your 30s. In your 40s, you stop worrying about what everyone else thinks you should be doing, but stuff gets real. Still figuring out the rest.
Hopefully, you’ve learned things already. You probably know by now who your real friends are. By your late teens, you know who is full of it and when (I’m trying not to be, but I’m a member of the media, so ...).
School gave you much of the knowledge you’ll need in life. Now you’ll want some practical skills. Wisdom comes later. It’s harder to acquire than a diploma and doesn’t necessarily come with age. It’s just more embarrassing to be a fool at 60 than it is at 22.
Adults feel compelled to offer advice to graduates. Sorry, we can’t help it. We mean the best not realizing that you’re not listening anyway. It’s OK. We didn’t listen either.
We’re also terrified for you, but in the best possible way. When we reflect at that time in our own lives, we think we didn’t have the fear we should have had. You probably don’t either.
That’s OK because going through life in fear is no way to live. Young people often fear success as much as they fear failure. Fear is not your friend.
Ten years from now, no one will care about your GPA or what activities you participated in. That can be terrifying or a relief depending on your circumstances. Either way, it’s the truth.
What’s really exciting about this time is that once the parties end, the rest of your life is yours. You get to make the big and small decisions – learn from the results or consequences. There will be triumphs and failures, but you’ll own them.
People will question your decisions, mostly your parents. They love you more than you can fathom, but they’re not always right, and they know this. Neither are you.
Most of high school took place, at least within the building, in a controlled environment. The good news is that if school made you itchy, the real world is better, and you’re in control of more than you realize.
Your character as an adult is built more by overcoming obstacles and failures than successes. People who don’t have failures didn’t try hard enough. Coasting through life is boring and makes for vapid people you’ll later avoid in social situations.
What’s even better is that you get to define what success and failure is. How much does it have to do with income, job satisfaction, quality of life? It takes at least a few more years to figure it out, but the answers to those questions are based on what’s important to you and no one else.
The sooner we understand that the world won’t adapt to us, the sooner we can adapt to it. This is where we get much of our wisdom. We get more when we realize we’re part of something bigger, starting with a family, a community, a nation, a planet.
We develop goals that go beyond our personal satisfaction. We develop values and the people who surround us often rise above what we might desire personally.
Some of you already know these things. In that case, you’re ahead of the game no matter what your class rank says.
Congratulations, Class of 2014. Can’t wait to see what you bring to the world.
• Kevin Lyons is news editor of the Northwest Herald. Reach him at 815-526-4505 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinLyonsNWH.