In a little more than a week, Stowe High’s graduating class of 2019 will receive their diplomas, move their tassels, toss their caps, wax nostalgic about their high school years, and turn their attention to whatever comes next.
In a time filled with excitement and apprehension both for the graduates and those who love them, allow me to share some advice and experience with this group of wonderful young men and women who have grown up in the cocoon that is Stowe, Vermont.
• You don’t need to have your future figured out.
Some of you have known precisely what you want to do and be since kindergarten, but most of you are just beginning to figure it out. Wherever you are in that process is perfect. There are plenty of people who have interesting, fulfilling, accomplished lives who are still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up.
• College is only one path.
Don’t allow society’s or anyone else’s definition of success dictate what you do or your sense of self-worth. The sooner you embrace that trying to live up to external definitions of success rather than defining your own, the happier you’ll be.
• If you are going to college, take some courses and meet some people who are completely foreign to your interest or experience.
Adults have probably been asking you since you could speak in complete sentences what you want to be when you grow up. It’s a ridiculous question because it’s impossible for you to even know what the options are until you get beyond high school.
Sample things you haven’t been exposed to. Take the time to get to know people who you think are nothing like you. You’ll find you have a surprising amount in common and fascinating differences.
• Don’t fall into the trap of believing other people’s social media is a true reflection of their lives and happiness.
You’ve been hearing this one for a while, but it’s more important for you now than ever to understand that social media is what we choose to have the world see, not what people’s lives are really like.
Feelings of joy, sadness, community, loneliness, fear, accomplishment, etc., are universal. If you experience it, so have millions of others. If you talk to someone when you’re struggling, you will generally be met with compassion and a sense of relief that they aren’t the only ones to struggle. We have all been there, even if we hide it from the masses.
• Stay active.
Most of you participated in something that got you up and moving for at least a portion of the year and most of you won’t be participating in college athletics. Join a club team, an outing club, or an adult league. Create a gym or running routine. Find something that pushes you physically. Your mental health and your potential “freshman 15” will thank you.
Athletics are a great way to meet people with common interests, release stress, encourage you to eat a little healthier, and help you sleep. Which brings me to…
• Get enough rest.
Everything is more difficult when you’re exhausted. You can burn the candle at both ends for only so long before it catches up with you hard.
• Take care of one another.
I don’t just mean your fellow graduates or new friends that you meet at work, school, or whatever your next step is. People in dangerous situations are always your business, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Be the person who speaks up when you see an intoxicated girl being led off at a party, or when someone is headed for a car who has no business driving. Don’t let someone who’s seriously impaired try to get home on their own — even if they’re walking. Tragedies are almost always avoidable if others are paying attention and step up.
• Take the opportunity to reinvent yourselves.
You’ve grown up in a small town, which is both wonderful and constricting. People who have known you forever create a box in which they believe that you belong. This next phase is an opportunity to break out of it. Try different things on. Take time to figure out your own definition of yourself and allow it to evolve. And finally:
• Recognize your parents’ texts, calls, and emails for what they are — other than too frequent, in your opinion.
This next step is a big transition for us, too. We’re suddenly cut off from your day-to-day lives. Even if you mostly avoided your parents for the last couple of years, we saw your body language when you passed by on the way to your room and that told us a lot.
We knew when you went out, that you made it home safely. We knew that you had friends and, most likely, we knew your friends. Once you leave, there’s so little that we know.
Most parents aren’t trying to invade your life; we just want confirmation that you’re OK. Respond occasionally. Trust me, if you don’t, it makes us worry more and we’ll just try harder to reach you.
We know you feel it’s taken forever for this moment to arrive, but be a little patient with us; a piece of our hearts is heading out into a bigger world and, to us, it all seemed to have happened so quickly.
Lisa Senecal is co-founder of The Maren Group, a writer, and member of the Vermont Commission on Women. She is a Vermont native and lives in Stowe.