A Letter to This Year’s High School Graduating Class

Dear Graduating Class,

It may be hard to fathom, but your high school identity is not necessarily the one you will carry with you for the rest of your days. More than likely, you will be changing quite a bit in the next few years. And change is not something that this class is unfamiliar with, given the circumstances of the last few years.

I encourage you to view the future as your choose-your-own-adventure novel: the brightly covered books with unicorns and rainbows I loved in my 1990s tweenhood.

You became a knight, an elf, or a fair maiden on a quest to:

(a) slay a dragon
(b) seek treasure or
(c) follow the shimmering light into the forest

Your choice.

The joy of choice is that you do not know what is behind options A, B, or C. It is the element of surprise and suspense that keeps you reading.

smiling high school grad
Some thoughts for the graduating class. (Twenty20 @vizionzbyv)

Your future holds a lot of trial and error and change

Life is that way, too.

What your future holds in store is a lot of trial and error — and we learn the most about ourselves in unexpected moments. Life can turn corners when you are least expecting change, which is one of life’s only fundamental constants.

Some food for thought:

Soichiro Honda was 42 when he founded the soon-to-be global enterprise, the Honda Motor Company. Honda spent years working in a bicycle shop before he was noticed and selected to be an apprentice to an automobile mechanic. He was recognized for his work ethic and then promoted to mechanical engineering. After many years of being self-taught, he emerged as a leader in the automobile industry.

Julia Child, the famous chef, was 49 when her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published — and 51 when she made her television debut on “The French Chef.” While attending Smith College, she studied theatre and creative writing and played a little basketball. When reflecting on her college years, Julia Child said, “I spent most of my time there just growing up.”

And did you know that Charles Darwin originally went to school to be a physician? He had to drop out of his medical program because he could not stand the sight of blood. I would wager a bet that many a geneticist is grateful for Darwin’s plan change. He was 50 years old when he published On the Origin of Species, the research tome that would change the study of science indefinitely.

What all of these late-blooming geniuses have in common is that it took some time for them to find their true selves.

It’s okay that you don’t know what you want to do

So, I will say something aloud to you now: It is okay if you do not know precisely what you want to do with your life.

I will say it again….

It is okay if you do not know precisely what you want to do with your life now.

Be patient in the time that resides between now and your next adventure. Sometimes our most important conversations or experiences happen when we least expect them.

I encourage you to embrace change because the odds are you will never escape it. And to embrace this new beginning not as a notch in the belt of a carefully constructed life plan but as an opportunity for wonder.

Take risks:

Audition for the play.

Raise your hand when a speaker asks for volunteers.

And when someone needs a hand-offer it.

In a new city, turn off the maps app and explore the old-fashioned way. It is in the hidden corner book shops and bistros where life is happening — not in the Yelp review.

Be kind to yourself

And lastly, I encourage you to be kind to yourself when you make a mistake. No one can claim they have never made a misstep — or cast some form of misjudgment in their lives. It is how you recover from these instances that matter most.

As you walk across the stage in a few months — and the days will go by quicker than you could ever imagine — accept your diploma but also do me one small favor. A final assignment from me: I ask you to take stock now.

Look at the crowd. Feel the diploma in your hand representing your hard-earned four years of high school.

Feel the wind or the sun on your face (or the stifling warmth of the gym if you are indoors, but hopefully outdoors) and commit the scene to memory.

Store it for a later date. This is your moment. It is not an ending — it is your beginning.

More Great Reading:

The 50 Best High School Graduation Gifts of 2023

About Suzanne Pickford

Suzanne Lima Pickford lives in Massachusetts with her husband, two teenage sons (one who has just recently "flown" to college), three dogs, and a small backyard farm of twenty-two chickens, two ducks, and one barn cat.

Each year she also inherits about 120 teenagers as a high school English and Creative Writing teacher in Barrington, Rhode Island where she has been an educator for twenty-three years. She has a Masters degree in Creative Writing and Literature and is a member of the International Women Writers Guild. Suzanne has publications in The ProvidenceJournal and Network. You can follow her on Instagram at @suzannepickford.

Read more posts by Suzanne

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