On my first day of high school, I anxiously waited to prove myself and continue everything I felt I had built. I had had a wonderful experience in middle school, made lasting friendships with staff members who had seen my worth and espoused my work, and learned lessons about myself from the bountiful opportunities I was given.
In high school, every inch of my four-foot-nine frame hungered for continuity of that positive experience. And to introduce high school, one of my morning teachers pulled up a chair, cleared her throat, and said, "Nothing you did before today--nothing you did in middle school--matters now."
Transitions into new stages of life are frightening largely due to the idea that one has to build from scratch… that many of the relationships, reputations, and prior knowledge that has become assumed and trusted can no longer be called upon for support. I understand now what she meant, but I had entered high school moored by the belief that all I had just done would aid and accompany me on my journey.
Fortunately, even though I had to rebuild a little and high school was sometimes a daily battle, I emerged with similarly rich relationships and experiences, memories I can be proud of. So when a college-going friend of mine advised that "high school doesn't matter," I again considered this refrain.
There's no way everything we have done thus far can slide into uselessness and meaninglessness… to leave behind what we've done is to dismiss what has made us who we are. What from these experiences can we bring with us? How can we ensure that the past accompanies us into this next phase of life?
We are built of connections, and regardless of whether or not we choose to maintain them going forward, they will remain part of us. We are the students, the peers, and the children of those we are "leaving behind." With regard to peers, we are thrust together--and therefore bonded--largely by circumstance, and we will always be able to trace our origins back to the chance collection of circumstances that produced us; we are finite in number, relics of our time and place.
With regard to our teachers, we carry every lesson we chose or were able to be present for, and what we know is subject to their predispositions, backgrounds, and beliefs; thus teachers are able to perpetuate the characteristics which in themselves prevail.
With regard to our families, we are extensions of the homes in which we were raised, representatives of the lessons learned from our kitchens, TVs, streets, living rooms, and earphones. We are by virtue of existing representatives of all these people and places, and we have a chance to be either positive or negative in our representation.
Also not negligible are the lessons learned and the things accomplished. My experiences from the past four to seven years are not trivial just because I may not be able to record them on a resume or force them to bear financial or professional fruit… but I was editor of the literary magazine, president of the Music Honor Society, and secretary of the National Honor Society. These positions were occupied with purpose.
We have learned and experienced things that may not necessarily be translated into concrete gain, but during this time when we are pressed to yield concrete results, and the meaning of value may be challenged, narrowed to mean only that which yields something tangible, we must remember that worth is intrinsic and circular: the worth of what we have done is embedded in the experiences themselves, but also will manifest themselves in meaningful ways that may surprise us in the days to come.
The last thing never to be ignored are the bridges we crossed to reach the present. We are not the same people we were because life is not stagnant, but shockingly, brilliantly static. You have likely done things you once never thought possible, for better or for worse; the pressure faced, the obstacle mounted and overcome, however small, is not insignificant. The pressure made us who we are, and in order to embrace who we one day can be, it is our responsibility to examine ourselves as whole people, be aware of the reality that has shaped us. It is our responsibility to be aware of, responsible for, and acceptant of the people we used to be.
Going forward, we can still be moored in the experiences that made us who we are, the people we used to be, and the backgrounds we represent. All of the elements that have shaped us into who we are will stay with us because they are irrevocably part of us; they have a home in us and in our lives and stories. That matters a great deal.