For the past several years I’ve considered writing an open letter to the graduating class of each June, but never got around to it. As graduation loomed closer for our oldest son I thought about it more. That was in 2020, and we know too well what a shit show that year ended up being. The last thing a bunch of kids needed at that time was me writing something that could be summed up in this pic:
Not that I think anyone should be mollycoddled, but it was a difficult time for everyone, and there was no sense in adding to it with something unhelpful as a meme. Same for the Class of 2021, which still saw major disruptions to what we knew as “normal.” When it came time for the Class of 2022, well, I was busy releasing a second book and plumb forgot all about it. So here we are now.
Perhaps it’s my age or perhaps it’s because I’ve spent more time with the younger generation here at home and overhear some of the conversation. But the admittedly unsolicited advice I would have delivered a couple years ago isn’t the one I hope to deliver now, it’s a kinder, gentler message I think. And hopefully more helpful.
If I’ve learned anything in the thirty one years since I graduated it’s this: Your education isn’t over, it’s just begun. Certainly you’ve been given some tools to take with you into the world ( and missing some you should have been given ) but keep in mind going forward, now is the time when your education truly begins. Until now you’ve had people there to support you, to pick you up when you fall. You still will going forward, but it’s a little different now. The world is gonna knock you on your ass from time to time and the best thing for you now and then will be to pick yourself up whenever you can. It will make you stronger, harder to knock down.
One of my favorite quotes along these lines comes from the show Deadwood, shown here (NSFW due to language):
A little extreme maybe, but there’s some truth there.
Please don’t mistake this as me being overly pessimistic, it’s just the way life is sometimes. But there’s an upside to all of this going forward as well.
At your commencement there were sure to be speeches, and someone may have referred to high school as “…the best years of our lives.”
What a crock.
The best years of your life are just beginning, trust me. Ahead of you is the time to explore and find your place in the world. You will not only establish yourself in the world professionally, but more importantly as the person you were born to be. This is a time for change and growth that, hopefully, will end only when you’re dead. Trust me, decades from now when you think of “the good old days”, it most likely won’t be high school that comes to mind. At least I hope not.
Along with the change I mention above will be the change in your relationships. You may be feeling some anxiety about you and your high school friends going your separate ways. Of course social media has changed this somewhat in the past few years, but it will happen nonetheless. There’s a good chance you won’t see each other again even.
And it’s okay.
More than that, it’s perfectly normal. Sometimes personal growth, as well as life in general, draws you apart. However at the same time it’s pushing you towards someone else. By all means, keep those ties if you choose to and able but don’t give way to anxiety about drifting apart either. It’s just one of those things that happen. They have their own journey, their own path to walk. It might not run parallel to your own. Remember then fondly, wish them well on their own growth and should a time come when your paths cross again, by all means, celebrate!
As this happened, you may well find that your circle of friends ( meaning in real life, not social media )gets smaller, but that circle becomes stronger as you find people who share your values and interests. Be a fiercely loyal friend, but not blindly loyal, there’s a difference. Be sure to have one or two friends that challenge you, to keep in in check along the way as well.
Sitting here, three decades past where you are now, I feel like there’s so many things I could tell you. However I think it’s best to close with what I think to be a great piece of advice, disguised as a poem, by Rudyard Kipling:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Chris Sherwood writes from his home in North Chemung. He is the author of In Times of Trouble, a post-apocalyptic novel set in Upstate New York, and is currently working on the sequel. To learn more, go to cmsherwood.com