High school graduation season is in full swing in my home state. Some times it’s tough to believe I’ve been out of high school for sixteen years. So much has happened since I became an adult. What follows is what I would tell myself if I had a time traveling DeLorean or funky booth like Dr. Who.
You have just finished high school and your adult life now lays ahead of you shooting off into the unseen distance like the open highway in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road.” You didn’t take any time to appreciate the fact you graduated from high school, looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities of college instead. You should have appreciated your time being somewhat of an outsider in your high school. First because the people that struggle socially in high school often are the ones who adapt to the adult world better. Be happy the highlight of your life wasn’t your last football game or Senior Prom. You will face far tougher issues than losing the big game. You will have greater thrills than wearing an ill fitting rented suit and dancing among tinsel and paper miche decorations in a basketball gym. Things like that will be remembered by NO ONE.
The challenges you will face in the coming years will be great and many. When these challenges and disappointments come, you will be thankful for having developed a strong mind and ability to handle adversity, loss, loneliness and pain. Because you didn’t have legions of fair weather friends, you will appreciate true friends and confidants. Because you know what it’s like to be treated poorly, you will have compassion for others. Because you didn’t allow yourself to concentrate on only academics or football or speech or your weekend retail job, you have made yourself a well rounded and well versed man. Being well rounded won’t help you in a corporate job, but it will make you more self reliant and more aware of what’s going on around you. It will make you interesting too.
I see you have your high school annuals. You’ll be happy you kept them even if you go entire years without looking at them. In coming years you will be amazed at how much you were involved, how much you accomplished, and how well prepared for college and the ‘fast times and hard knocks’ of the first several years of life in the real world. Be happy you acted in the school play for two years, you won’t have that back. Be happy you did three years of competitive speech, you developed courage and an ability to improvise, make split second decisions, and hide your fear from the outside world. Be happy you played football for three years, even though you were at odds with your teammates. Not many people can say they did athletics in high school. Millions may watch football from the stands in towns all over America on fall Friday nights, but you were part of the action. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like a rock star or Roman gladiator.
Take joy in the fact you went to a small high school. You may not have had dozens of Advanced Placement classes or a program for gifted students, but it will drive you to read and study on your own. Be grateful you were unable to disappear in the crowd when you were harassed and annoyed by other students, it forced you to face your fear because you couldn’t run away. Things like that develop courage and fortitude, running away from your problems or hiding in a clique won’t. Be happy you couldn’t spend your days reading comic books or playing D&D. Later on you’ll have friends whose only out of school activities were just that. While they are good guys, be happy you had to rely on your own imagination to develop your own stories and got to draw upon real people and real experiences to find inspiration. That, and most girls don’t find D&D and comic books fantasies very sexy.
Speaking of girls, don’t believe the nonsense you’ll date, party, and sleep around several nights a week in college. “Animal House” has nothing to do with real college. John Belusi won’t be your roommate. You can go hang out, get a little crazy, etc. at times. But you’ll be far ahead of 80 percent of your classmates when you keep things like that in moderation. The few who do nothing but study won’t have the friends or the experiences. You will be shot down and have girls stand you up even more in college than in high school. You will have bad breakups, you will have terrible dates with girls, you will be frustrated, and you will have heartaches. You will also realize that there are worse things than not having a girl in your life. When you see high school and college classmates go through divorces and unhappy marriages, you might even be grateful for loneliness.
As far as your classes go, don’t get tough on yourself for not making Dean’s List or not graduating with honors. Most people that get those honors studied easier subjects than Pre-Med or Business Management. Spoiler alert, Zach, you won’t get the dream job you gunned for all the way through high school. You will experience pains and horrors that make Dante’s “Inferno” look like an Adam Sandler comedy. I won’t go into details because you won’t believe such things could happen to someone who worked as hard and was as ethical as you. Just believe me when I say bad things happen to even good people. That and no employer will ask to see your college diploma.
Zach, be grateful for the challenges ahead. They will teach you that you don’t need a prestigious job or lots of money to live a happy and content life. You will learn the best things in life are other people and your experiences. Be happy you went to the small college you did. You got to make friends from all over America and the world. Most people that go to large, prestigious universities don’t get to have the variety of friends you will. Be happy when you get to learn early on that life isn’t about working most of your waking moments at a mind numbing job, chasing money to buy junk you don’t need to impress people who don’t care. All I will tell you is every day you wake up, be thankful if aren’t a cubicle jockey or a serf in a designer suit racking up debts on meaningless trinkets and thrills.
In closing, Zach, always remember the words of the late Bill Hicks: “It’s just a ride. And you can change it anytime you want.” Be happy that you can and will.
Your older self.