What I Wish I’d Known Freshman Year

Originally posted to Odyssey, May 31, 2017

Let me just let you in on a little secret right now: graduation is nothing like the movies. I remember watching movies like High School Musical or The Princess Diaries when I was growing up, staring in awe as the seniors finally made it to their graduation day. I would listen to the valedictorians speak with such deep meaning and purpose, an infallible wisdom that only came with graduating high school. I would look up to the seniors at my school as if they were giants, omnipotent, omniscient, thinking, Wow. They are so wise.

My, how wrong I was.

As I got older and became friends with seniors (and eventually became a senior myself) I realized the older I got, the less I seemed to know. The closer I came to donning that cap and gown, the more I seemed to doubt myself, the less I seemed to understand about people and the world. I can’t speak for certain about what your high school career will bring, and I can’t say I know a whole lot about life, but I do know some things just based on just my high school experience.

First, it’s not going to be anything like you expected. You will fail sometimes; you’ll face obstacles you could never have imagined. Things will happen in your personal life that are both unanticipated and unwelcome; the joy will be sweeter and the sorrow more bitter. That’s all right. All you can do is roll with the punches and do the best you can. It’s impossible to control every situation, but you can choose how you respond to it. And those nights when you think you’re going to break into a million pieces if one more stressing task enters your life? You’ll make it through those, too. Nothing is quite as dire as it seems. It’s hard to realize in the moment, but things will get better once morning comes, a whole new set of opportunities will arise. All you have to do is open your eyes and take them.

Second, people are going to change. Your friends, your family, even you. Most of the time this is for the better, but not always. Some days, it’ll seem like everyone is changing but you. And that’s okay. Don’t worry about if you should be doing this or that because everyone else has started to. You are not falling behind. Everyone grows at their own pace, which is especially apparent in high school where you’re forced to spend eight hours a day with a bunch of angsty teenagers trying to find themselves for four years straight.

There will be some days where you will feel terribly alone and like you are the only person in the world who has ever had to deal with the changes in friendships you’re dealing with. Newsflash- you’re not the only one. There are a million other kids out there struggling with the same things you are. I know, because I was and still am one of those kids. Your friends will change, and you’ll have to decide how you want to change in response. You may be pressured to try to lie to yourself in order to fit in with them, but it’s better to take that leap and find people who you truly enjoy being around and who truly value your company than stay with those who couldn’t care less. Besides, it’s more fun to be a rebel anyway (or so I’ve heard).

Third, there is life after high school. Granted, I don’t know much about that life because I only graduated approximately four hours and 45 minutes ago at the time I’m writing this, but I cannot describe to you the joy I feel at being done with high school. A weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. Clearly, it would be dishonest of me to say that I loved and cherished my every waking moment spent in my high school. It’s not likely you’ll fair any differently. But I wish I had kept this fact more in mind those past four years.

Yes, grades are important. Yes, friends are great to have. Yes, all those APs and extracurriculars will look awesome on your resume. However, these aren’t the only things. Looking back, those late nights I spent crying over PreCal notes for a test I felt like I was going to fail the next day or stressing over Instagram pictures of friends hanging out without me really weren’t worth the trouble (especially since I never actually failed the test and I found my own niche of people to hang out with). The days I spent overly preoccupied with what this person said to that person and who had gone out partying with whom and why this person was giving me the cold shoulder and how to fit in really weren’t worth it. Because guess what? You’re stuck with these people for four years. But then something incredible happens.

You get to start over.

You get to meet new people and grow into a new person without the constriction of what other people you thought were your friends might think of you. You can finally be the person you were so worried about showing off all those years in high school. There is hope in a fresh start. Once you graduate, you won’t be looking back on all the bad times, you’ll be looking ahead with anticipation to the next great adventure. As Charlie Chaplan said in The Great Dictator, “In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: ‘The kingdom of God is within man.’ Not one man, nor a group of men, but in all men. In you! You, the people, have the power! The power to create machines! The power to create happiness! You, the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure!” And the chance to make that new, wonderful, adventurous life becomes yours again once you graduate.

Since I did open this article by saying how I didn’t really know much about life, I will leave you with the words of someone far wiser than me and who has done pretty well for herself I’d say, my grandmother:

1. If you can’t better yourself, don’t lower yourself.

2. Remember your upbringing.

3. An education is the best life insurance a person can have.

4. An education is the only thing a man is willing to pay for and not get.

So don’t stress so much, everything will work itself out; try to sleep once in a while; and don’t forget to slow down and drink it all in. And if your high school experience, like mine, isn’t all peaches and cream, take heart! College is right around the corner.

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