(EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column, originally published in 2014, is being reprinted upon request.)
Congratulations, Class of 2016! You did it. Twelve years of your education culminated in one surreal and incompatibly brief evening of weeping family members and glancing around at your classmates and seeing them as the children they once were rather than the adults they’ve become.
Graduating feels weird. A good weird, granted, but weird all the same. A significant phase of your life has ended, and any time that happens, you’re going to be left out of sorts and apprehensive. It doesn’t help that most of the dialogue surrounding graduations tends toward the dramatic. You know: “The you that you were just yesterday, Past You, is GONE. Poof. You are now Future You, Future being this large, terrifying abstract, and You being the sole person capable of defining it. You’re our only hope, Obi-Wan. By the way, here’s your diploma; have fun at Senior Salute!”
There will also be advice aplenty, and most of that will stress you out, too. So guess what – here’s some more!
But I promise you, mine has every intention of reducing your anxiety. Because yes, you need to take college seriously, but you also need to have fun. You’ll find that happiness in life has a lot to do with ensuring the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
• To prove I’m veering as far left of foreboding as possible, I’ll start you with this: Put your alarm clock somewhere your bed is not. And if you don’t have an actual alarm clock, get one. Now that your mom will not be around to do it, it’s the only thing capable of annoying you out of bed. The snooze bar is your worst enemy. You do not want to be that kid sneaking into class 20 minutes late with one shoe and a jacket over your PJs. Professors find that kid funny maybe once.
• Speaking of your mom, call her. It doesn’t mean you’re compromising your independence. It means you’re easing the mind of someone who cares about you and how you’re doing. And if you call her regularly (and first), she’ll have far less time to sit around visualizing the myriad tragic ends you could be meeting, thus eliminating the need to leave you multiple frantic voicemails. Also, call your dad, your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, etc. They like to know you’re thinking about them, and it feels good to hear familiar voices.
• Along those same lines – and this one is serious – if you need help, ask for it. The sooner the better. Don’t feel you have to solve the world’s problems on your own to prove to yourself or anyone else that you’re capable of independence. It will accomplish the polar opposite aim. There aren’t going to be people around anymore to recognize “that look” on your face or changes in your behavior and ask what’s wrong. Part of going it alone actually means learning to recognize when you can’t. If you need help in class, ask your professor. And if you need help in general, tell someone. If you feel you can’t turn to family or friends, your college has counselors, and their services are free.
• Make new friends. That doesn’t mean replace the old ones. Keep in touch; this generation has the unique advantage of that being easier than ever before. But don’t get upset if the desire to keep in touch becomes less urgent over time. That just means you’ll have more to catch up on the next time you speak. In the meantime, make friends – interesting friends, quirky friends, some who have everything in common with you and some who have nothing in common with you at all. You’ll learn, you’ll be challenged, and you’ll broaden your mind, all of which will prepare you for the wide and varied array of people you’ll be dealing with as you move forward in life.
• Write, even if you don’t consider yourself a writer. Keep a journal, write a poem, make lists of your goals, hopes, dreams. There will be solitude, and nothing helps you organize your thoughts and stay in tune with yourself like putting it on paper.
• Another super-fun facet of college is learning to manage money, and you’ll learn quickly that if you blow it all on Xbox games and pizza this week, you’ll be starving and driving around on fumes for the next two. Once you’ve taught yourself to do without – and love the taste of ramen – though, don’t go full-bore Survivor. Turn the video games, new outfits, and junk food binges into rewards, and treat yourself now and then. You’ll appreciate it more and give yourself something to look forward to other than waffle-bar night at the cafeteria.
• Finally, and above all else, never stop being curious. Try new things. Find a class once a semester that has nothing to do with your major but just sounds neat, and take it. Sign up for dance or music lessons. Explore your new city: Find the funky shops, visit the museums and landmarks, stumble across that perfect study spot in the park.
Because here’s the best piece of advice I can give you: You’re going off to learn to be an adult, but that doesn’t mean you have to “grow up.” Not all the way. Learn to take seriously what needs to be taken seriously, and learn to laugh at the rest.
Don’t become a different person… instead, become a more complex person – a person who can now develop a business model, balance a budget, or change a flat as well as recite the lyrics to every Nicki Minaj song whilst twerking.
So go forth, be courageous, be strong, and be kind. And most of all, be you. Right Now You. You’ll find the future tends to shape itself around that person, so just make him or her the best they can be, and enjoy the ride.