Monday, July 4, 2022

Advice for new high school graduates

A few weeks back, shortly before the school year ended, at a high school I had been subbing at frequently during the last several months, I came across a student I recognized in the hallway during passing time between classes. A senior getting ready to graduate, I had gotten to know him fairly well during these last few months in a variety of classes. A fine young man with a bright future ahead of him. I really appreciated the opportunity to build some rapport with him and learn from him.

We greeted each other, and then I asked him something along the lines of, "Are you excited to graduate? Here we are, bud, finally at the finish line!" He didn't seem too excited. He explained to me that there were mixed emotions, and that he was actually a little nervous - a little scared of what may lie ahead. The uncertainty of it all, he said. He told me he plans on working for at least a year, see what happens with that. College is off the table, for now, at least.

Here was my advice to him, with a few additional thoughts, if it's of any help to you or to a newly-minted high school graduate you may know:

Indeed, it can definitely be a little distressing, not being able to fully see or understand what lies ahead for you. Perhaps that's one of our flaws as human beings, at any age, at any stage in our lives. All too often, we want - we demand - to see all the puzzle pieces clearly laid out before us. We desire to be fully in control and fully aware of the immediate future, and when that doesn't happen, we get a little nervous, and yes, we get scared.

My young friend, at the time of our conversation, didn't quite know or understand what lies ahead for him beyond high school. He was getting ready to trade, in an instant, the certainty and stability of a clearly defined, regimented schedule and set of expectations he had known for his entire life up to this point - for the unknown.

Or was he? I explained to him, and I share with all of you here now, a different way of looking at this situation. Let's turn it on its head. He doesn't know what lies ahead, because he simply hasn't created it yet. He - along with every other high school graduate - has just been given a brand new, totally blank, spotless canvass. You're going to decide what goes on it. It doesn't matter if you're off to college right away, or the workforce, or the military. It doesn't matter if you have concrete goals at this moment, or if you're taking it more in stride. You have each been given this blank canvass.

You're going to create a masterpiece based on your goals, expectations, values, dreams, faith, work ethic, skills and talents, interests, and yes, a bit of the unknown. This masterpiece, of course, is you. It's not going to be created and completed overnight. It will be created, revised, and taken in new directions for the remainder of your life, however long that will be. There are going to be some unexpected personal and professional turns and bumps on the journey, but that's all part of the brilliant masterpiece in the end - you. You won't be able to clearly see all the puzzle pieces laid out before you. You won't be able to instantly - or perhaps ever - understand some of the situations that will come your way on the journey. There will be times when you step back to look at what you've done with this precious gift, and you're going to absolutely love it. There will be other times when you look at it, and you'll just want to scream. But through it all, hold strong to your faith and your values. Keep your nose to the grindstone, make use of your resources like your time and money wisely, and stay positive. You're about to start a truly one-of-a-kind work of art that no one else can duplicate, and no one else can fully understand or appreciate.

Best of luck to all of you freshly-minted high school graduates. Work hard, remember the things that are truly important in this life, develop your God-given talents and gifts for both yourself and others, use your resources wisely, and expect the unexpected. Now, get to work on that canvass.

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