This is the third year in a row I received no invitations to speak at a graduation ceremony—e-mail is so undependable-- so I’ll continue the tradition of addressing all of you from here, as you say goodbye to life as a high school student.
First and foremost, congratulations. Your adventures from ninth to twelfth grade are undoubtedly the most chronicled high school odyssey in world history, thanks in part to your posts on social media (“OMG—I got an A!”) to the zigabytes of video and pictures your parents took at a moment’s notice, much to your displeasure (“Mom, put the camera away—I’m only going to driver’s ed!”). Combined with the media’s constant insistence that the odds of getting into a good college are smaller than being struck by lightning, it’s easy to understand why graduation day brings more a sense of relief than joy, for at long last, this stressful part of your life is behind you.
And I really hope you keep that part of your life behind you. There’s no doubt life will bring more situations that will keep you up at night, but you’ll face many more where keeping awake at night is nothing more than an option. The tricky part comes when people around you respond in a way that makes you feel like your only options are panic, drama, and uncertainty. When those times come, it will be hard to stop and think if there’s a better choice for you—and if one comes to mind, it might be even harder to choose it, for fear of not being part of the crowd.
My advice? Be strong.
Take a look at the senior year you’ve just capped off (get it—cap and gown? Capped off?) Last fall, your fellow seniors were completely panicked by applying to college, convinced they were going to fail because they didn’t know the magic words that would compel Harvard to deliver an offer of admission by chauffeured limousine. That made you a little nervous, until you looked at your first college application, and saw what it really wanted: your name; your address; your senior year classes; some idea about what you’ve done with your life, and some idea about what’s next. You didn’t have to split an atom; you didn’t have to invent a new dance craze; you just had to show them who you were.
That’s the second part of my advice—be you. This won’t be easy, and many of you know this. You’re smiling with an understanding that this relief from school is temporary, that college will bring a bigger, faster round of factoid recital that requires even more hoop-jumping and less real thinking than high school—an idea that brings you little cheer, even if you get to play this next round with the help of a beer bong.
It’s easy to understand why you might see college that way, but I hope you won’t. If you’re like most seniors, you’ll look back on applying to college and wonder why you spent half the fall worrying when you should have been writing, why you spent all of Christmas break writing when you should have been caroling, and why you spent the better part of winter waiting for The News when you should have been busy living the dream.
Those same classmates are swearing college will be different, that they’ll be more focused and organized--but that’s only a hope, when what they really need is a plan. Be strong. Be you. Let the crowd pass by without you.
Beer bong and all.