Since no one has invited me to speak at their high school graduation (yes, Ohio and Wisconsin, I’m looking at you – there’s still time!), I figured I would take it upon myself to let high school graduates know what I think.
Personally, I’m pretty sure this is the safest way to do things, since sometimes, not even _I_ know what will come out of my mouth.
When I graduated from high school, more than 30 years ago, I felt I knew it all. Graduation comes with a feeling of excitement that parallels the feeling of being out on your own, almost – at least for many of you – and being away from the prying eyes of mom, dad, the nosy neighbor who always snitches on you and any younger siblings or cousins you may have.
You, as you sit there in that chair, are not imagining doing dishes, or getting up at unGodly hours of the morning to make your way to class/work/daycare. You are imagining a life where no one will tell you no.
I know this, because I was in your shoes once.
And that unbridled enthusiasm is a good thing. Really it is. It is what has propelled you through your high school years, and will propel you through your salad years. And for many of you, your Ramen noodle years.
But there are a few things you should know as you go out into the big blue world.
1) High school never ends. Remember how you used to talk to your friends during lunch? And you’d say “Oh. My. God… (please say this with me in your best surfer girl voice) I canNOT believe she is going out with HIM! What WAS she thinking?” and “Dude, he totes gets away with everything! It’s like the crap washes right off of him and lands on someone else.” Uhm, yeah… that never ends. Grown ups still do that, and we call it office politics and gossip. It never ever ends.
2) Learn how to clean a bathroom. This will become really, really important when you live alone and date. Same goes for learning how to master at least three really great recipes. I suggest Shrimp Scampi, Beef Tournedos and Chicken Marsala. Trust me on this.
3) Stop taking selfies. Seriously. We’ve all seen enough of you. Maybe you could, I don’t know, take pictures of the rest of the world. There’s some pretty cool stuff out there that may be a little more interesting than you, as hard as that is to believe, and you might want to remember it.
4) Read. I don’t care whether it’s books, newspapers, magazines, textbooks or auto manuals, just read. It is, by far the most important thing you have learned to do, and will continue to be the most important thing you will do in the future.
5) Learn to be by yourself. Because you will be. And it’s good to figure out how to not have someone else entertain you. It will come in handy during the rough times. Trust me on this as well.
6) No one lives like they do in TV and the movies. No one gets 2-bedroom rent controlled apartments with great views on a physicist’s salary. People have jobs that they go to for upwards of 8 hours a day, five days a week, with paychecks that do not afford them the luxury of a daily cup of coffee at Starbucks unless they either go without dinner, or rack up debt equal to that of Bolivia’s. You are not going to leave college and land a $100,000 a year job managing a tech company. You will likely make $25,000 a year and struggle until you either a) get promoted; b) get married or c) die. And it’s okay. Because millions of people do it every year and are happy. Really. Happy. And if you’re not happy in your job, find a new one. If you enjoy what you do, you will reap more than just monetary benefits. Nothing sucks more than dreading to go to work. Nothing. But if you love what you do, you’ll never feel like you’ve worked at all.
7) No one owes you anything… not a job, not an education, not a happily ever after. You have to work for those things. Generations of your family have come before you to make it possible for you to have so much. Don’t blow it. You have just enjoyed an 18-year vacation. Go out and earn that.
8) There’s no trophy for ninth place. In fact, there’s no trophy for second place. As a member of the trophy generation, we know that you all have been given trophies for just showing up. Real life doesn’t work like that. Honestly, there’s no prize for anything other than first place. Strive always, for winning. And if you don’t win, try again. And again. And again. In fact, never stop trying to be the best even if no one ever rewards you for it. There is a prize for that too. It’s called pride.
9) Have fun. This is your place and time. These next few years will be some of the best of your life. One day, you will look back on these past four years, that have meant so much to you now, and you will think “What did I ever think was so fun about that?” At least, I hope you will. I hope that with every age and every stage of your life, the next one just becomes better than the last. High school, growing up, becoming an adult – it’s hard. But it gets better.
Life really is like an oyster bed… you pick one and eventually it opens up. It may be nothing more than an oyster – in which case, with a little hot sauce and lemon juice, you’ve got a helluva snack. But sometimes, it’ll have a pearl. You’ve got to keep trying until you find those pearls. Find a long string of them. To you, they will mean the world, because you worked for them, and you earned them. The easy ones – the one’s that open up quickly – those aren’t any good. They’ll make you sick. But the ones you have to work for? Those are the best ones and the ones you’ll remember.
(c) Copyright Liz Carey 2014