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To A High School Grad, Sincerely 5 Years Later

This year marks five years since my graduation from high school. More importantly, 2020 is the year that my baby brother can officially be called a high school graduate. By no means was his senior year similar to mine. I had some struggles, but none really compared to a global pandemic that kept me quarantined for two months. I had some rough situations with friends, but none had to be solved over Zoom or from behind a mask. I had moments that I’ll never forget just like I confidently say that he will never forget this year. 

While getting ready for a virtual graduation might look a little different than me preparing for mine all those years ago, there are things that I recognize are the same. I’ve been helping him announce his school of choice to all loved ones and places. I took that classic graduation picture that my parents will hold onto forever. I watched as he wrote essays, cried about the changes to come, and worried about the unknown. I saw glimpses of myself the whole way. While I know that he has to break into this world in his own way and find his own path, I’ve tried to share with him the basic things that I’ve learned in the five years since I hung my hat on high school. 

The mistakes I made, lessons I learned, and moments I had were things that I needed. I wouldn’t give them up or change them for a minute. But, they’ve allowed me to become the person that I am today. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things I wish someone had told me when I  graduated high school. Maybe you’ve already heard these things a thousand times, or maybe you don’t want to hear them at all. Nonetheless, if I could speak to myself five years ago as I was about to graduate high school, there are definitely some things I would say. 

First, there will be more people who are interested in you. I might have specifically needed to hear, “Emily, the boy you met when you were 14 and cheated on you six months in is probably not ‘the one.’” In a more real and broad sense, leaving high school throws you into the world of meeting people like a whirlwind. Classmates, coworkers, and mutual friends all have a way of making it into your phone contacts. Walking into that space with a mindset that the couple hundred people you graduated with are the only ones that are ever going to love you is pure garbage. 

I encourage you to make your own mistakes. Let your heart break a time or two so that you can learn to pick up the pieces for yourself. But, also know that the person you were at 18 and the way you want to be treated is not going to translate five years later. Recently, the wise Sullivan Saliby said, “Sometimes holding on hurts more than letting go.” Letting go of someone that you’ve known all of your formative years is so difficult, but it’s sometimes easier than holding on and continuing to get hurt.

Second, take more pictures. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I took (and take) PLENTY of pictures. I’m not talking about Snapchats that people will see for 24 hours and you’ll see a year later in your Timehop. Take photos that will be saved in your Camera Roll. Get them printed. Put them somewhere. Give them to your mom and tell her about the friends you’re making. Being able to sit with your memories makes them so much fonder during times when you can’t necessarily remember what you were wearing or the boy you had a crush on. Those pictures will say a thousand words that you will hold onto forever. 

Third, learn to forgive yourself, kid. Yes, someone in history decided that eighteen was the monumental year in which you’d be released into society. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t get to keep making mistakes and learning like a kid. Hell, your 80 year old grandma is still making mistakes! Part of being an adult, though, is learning to take responsibility, say sorry, and forgive yourself. 

We’ve all said some pretty stupid things. We’ve all done things that made the ones around us disappointed. Those things might even make us disappointed to think about. The key to life is realizing that every single person has made mistakes. The star athlete, the self-help coach, and the model alike have all made mistakes that made themselves and the people around them feel bad. What sets us apart though, is our ability to deal with our mistakes and eventually forgive ourselves. 

I’ve told my brother this, so think of it as a little bit of older sister advice. The crappy days and the good days are part of what makes us, us. We build the little day to day experiences in with the monstrous life lessons to get this complex concoction that is us. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to spend too much money. You’re going to have your heartbroken or maybe you’ll break someone else’s heart. You’re going to hurt someone’s feelings. You’re going to fail a test. Damn it, you’re going to make mistakes. There’s no amount of prep work or reading that can prepare you for what the world really looks like. If I’m being honest, I don’t think I would want to provide you with the magic words if I had them. You need to learn to navigate all those things to become who you’re supposed to be. If something goes terribly wrong, make sure you have people that will be there to guide you back, but take the risks, spend the money, and forgive yourself.

Lastly, never stop saying you care. Believe it or not, being a high school graduate does not suddenly give you telepathic powers. Another mind crushing fact is that adults need to hear that they’re loved just as much as children do. So, while you might not think it’s “cool” to call your mom every day, she might just need you to pick up the phone. While you might roll your eyes that your Grandma signs all of her Facebook comments “Grandma Sue” as if you can’t see her profile, she might just want you to comment back. We all get overwhelmed with the whirlwind that is entering life. We have all this freedom, pride, and new land to cover. It’s hard not to press ignore a time or two.

When all the new things stop being so shiny, you’ll realize who’s been there for you all along. You’ll realize who the great “forever” friends are that you’ve kept from the halls of high school and the ones that you’ve gained as you aged up. Never stop telling the one’s around you that you care about them, you appreciate them, and you love them. There are some days that you won’t really like them. They might annoy you or hurt your feelings. But, to the ones that matter, make it known that even if you don’t like them at the moment, you’ll always love them. Because like it or not, life has a way of taking away the opportunity to say it to their face sometimes. So, say it often and loud.

I want to say that I’m so proud of the Class of 2020. They have a special place in my heart because I’ve watched one of your fellow graduates grow from infancy to getting his diploma. But, they also have a special place in my heart because none of us will ever know what you’re going through. None of us will ever have a senior year like yours or be tested like you have. I know that you’ve been asked to be strong 100 times already. Believe me, life isn’t going to stop expecting that from you. Regardless of how you finished the race, you finished. You got the medal.

Graduation might signal to the world that you’re ready to enter it, but don’t hesitate to hang out in the world of a kid for a while before rushing into your next steps. You have your whole life to be an adult. No matter what graduation means, move forward in your life how YOU are meant to live it. Love who you want, take in all the moments, and dive into all your passions. Take it from someone who was in your shoes just five years ago, there’s a lot of things I wish I would have known as I was crossing that stage. But damn, I’m so excited for you to come and learn all of them alongside me.

Congratulations, graduates! Tell me about the plans for your next chapter (or brag about your favorite grad) on any of my socials below!

Edited by Vanessa Reza. Contact info can be found on the ‘Contact Me’ page.

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