I stood in front of hundreds of people, with most faces I could identify. The parents of my best friends, fellow classmates, and family members. Various feelings filling the symphony center: joy, anxiousness, and sadness. In front of me, one of my best friends was giving our commencement speech. Eyes were riveted upon her as she eloquently gave parting words of advice. I looked around me at the 89 other students dressed in white. Their excitement was written upon their faces as they prepared to walk across the stage and begin a new chapter of their life. In that moment, I knew sadness can be a beautiful and powerful thing. Here we were, ready to move on from home, some of us moving thousands of miles away. Yet, amongst the happiness and excitement of starting college, there is a certain sadness about us. College is a scary change and we’re leaving behind our parents, our siblings, and the people we’ve known our whole lives. And within that sadness, we taught ourselves to be stronger and to overcome life obstacles. With senior year being spent battling SATs, APs, and even sitting through life seminars our last two months of school (I promise I loved them Mrs. Addington!!). We had gotten a taste of the real world by spending weeks working at internships. We learned to appreciate and love each other. Now, we were finally ready to take one more step: graduation.
So, to the new senior class of 2017, this is my advice to you...
While the energy is high, it’s also important to recognize there will be struggles this year which can be an essential part of the growth and development of becoming an adult. By this time, you’ve probably started considering which colleges you could see yourself. You’ve probably taken SAT after SAT. You’ve probably begun to write your college essays, nervously questioning your capabilities. It’s at this time you should begin to encourage your classmates. Now, as a class, y’all will be beginning a whole journey full of ups and downs. Make sure to encourage each other and find the positives. Make sure to support, and never criticize. It’s important to realize college is college and the name prestige does not matter, but what you do with the education you’ve been given. Do not look down on another for choosing a college that isn’t as prestigious as yours. Don’t look down on your best friend for choosing a major you don’t necessarily approve. Everyone around you will be going through the tough time of stressing out and doubting themselves.
You’re no longer tiny kindergarteners building castles or taking naps. Instead, you’re the big scary seniors we all once looked up to so many years ago. Your friends and family have watched you grow, blossoming into promising young men and women. You’ve worked your butts off to accomplish SO much, and for that I am proud of you. I’m proud of all of you, for giving your all. I don’t need to tell you you’re all going to grow or things are going to change. You already know that.
You should be grateful. Grateful to the parents of the Class of 2017. Your parents have been with us through thick and thin. They’ve supported and encouraged us, endlessly. Now, they’re taking on this final battle, preparing to send you off into the world. So, here’s to the parents. Thank you for all you’ve done. Thank you for waking up at 5 am to drive your kids to practice, and thank you for spending night after night helping us with our homework. Seniors, this might sound odd, but give your parents a hug when you leave. Tell them how much you love them and cherish these few months we have left. Go on an ice cream date with them or go see a movie. You won’t have the luxury of doing this every night once you leave for a new city and your parents love you more than anything. Parents, know you are blessed. I know it’s heartbreaking to have your child grow up and get ready to leave the nest. You’re blessed to have been given the gift of children, when there are others around you who never will be able to. Be blessed your child survived their childhood without illness or serious injury. Be blessed now they’re taking on a journey where they’ll be able to get an amazing education and wonderful jobs. These next few years will bring you so much joy and happiness.
I know the last 13 years have been tough. I know they’ve flown by so quickly. I know you’re all so ready to head off to college next fall. But take a moment to appreciate what you have. Take a moment to slow down and cherish each other. Take a moment to take just one more picture to look back on. Soon you’ll be reminiscing over the memories you’ve created together. Honestly, when you think back to high school, it’s not going to be about what GPA you had, no matter its importance. Instead, you’ll think about the precious memories you created over your lifetime. For me, that was the time I stayed up until three in the morning, out with my best friends at Whataburger after a football game. I think about the time I spent that one long summer day at Six Flags with wonderful people. That party I went to. That time I talked to someone I never knew and ended up becoming best friends. One thing I’ve learned is life is so unpredictable, but it’s never too late to make new friendships and try new things. That’s what we’re meant to do as humans.
Now that you’re heading off to college soon, it’s important to remember it's OKAY to make mistakes. Yes, you’ll be heading into the real world and you won’t have your parents and teachers to help you fix everything, but it’s going to be okay. You are not defined by your mistakes but by how you respond to them. That’s the whole adventure of being an adult: figuring out what on earth you’re doing. There’s no manual telling you how to survive college or how to be an adult. You need to take risks. To live in the moment, but also to work hard. We all have a choice on where and how we make our mark. It’s okay to do things differently, to take risks, and to challenge the norm.
Lean on your friends. Lean on your parents, your siblings, your family. We’re not meant to make this journey alone. It’s completely alright. Senior year will probably throw curveballs at you and it will be scary and it will be hard. These excruciating moments will continuously pop up and it may seem like such a daunting task, but you have each other. Take the time to celebrate who you are and the milestones you have accomplished to get to your graduation.
As I say farewell, I wish you all good luck. Know that these goodbyes are hard, but the hellos are rewarding. Know the best is yet to come. It’s scary, it’s frightening, and it’s SO beyond exciting. Good luck on wherever life takes you.