My first year of teaching, I taught 7th grade, and then 8th. A year after that, I transferred to a high school that the middle school I'd been teaching at fed into. That meant that there were a group of students that I knew from age 12-18. I got to watch them grow up, but in some ways I felt like we grew up together, since I was a mere 24 when we started and not much more mature.
Over the past weeks, many of them have headed to college and while I've had to avert my eyes from their Instagram and Twitter to avoid party pics (AHEM) it's been so exciting. This week, the rest of them will head off to their new homes, or start their new classes or new jobs. I couldn't be more proud. I really couldn't.
It's had me thinking a lot about the advice I wish I'd gotten when I was 18 --- what I wished I'd known or that someone had told me. Though, let's be honest, I wouldn't have listened.
Still, on the off chance that my students are reading (which I know many of you do! HELLO!) here's my best advice as you start this new chapter in your life.
You survived high school. Congratulations! All those academics and challenges are behind you (though for many of you, college will be just the start of your academic career!).
I think that brings me to my first bit of advice: high school is over . When you crossed the stage and got that diploma, you said goodbye to the popularity contest that is K-12. You're freeeeeee! Suddenly, it doesn't matter who thought you were cool or not, and the sad reality that high school doesn't really matter. Like, at all. And that cuts both ways: if people thought you were a nerd, you're free, but also, no matter how cool you were, no one gives a flying rip anymore. So. Enjoy that.
Also? Don't be someone who peaks in high school. High school is a place to have great experiences, but it's not where your life should stop. Keep making friends, keep trying new things, keep being awesome. Let your experiences in high school --- whether they were what you wanted or didn't live up to what you wanted --- propel you into a new journey that looks exactly how you want it to look.
Now is the time. You will never be this unfettered again. You're a brand new adult. Yes, money will be tight and you might have to work a bunch, but try to say yes as much as you can. Study abroad. Stay out later than seems reasonable. Go to parties (AND BE SAFE) and events on campus and do a few slightly crazy things. You will literally NEVER be in a position like this --- without children or a career or living at home or with a ton of bills to pay. Trust me --- even your rent or your cell phone or whatever you're paying isn't anything compared to adulthood.
This isn't an excuse to go out and be reckless. Have fun, but be safe. Not just in the sense of drinking and choices with your body, but also with yourself. It's highly likely that you'll get your heart broken more than once before you're my age. Feel it all. But treat yourself well. Be your own best friend. Don't use others as an emotional scratching post --- don't make people feel bad to make yourself feel good, don't date someone just because you're lonely, don't string people along. Be nicer than seems necessary, to yourself and to others.
You will undoubtedly find yourself looking at yourself in the mirror at some point, wondering how you could have done _______________. We've all been there. Those moments --- after bad choices or a rough night or a huge mistake --- define you, not the moments when you're choosing. Do you have the courage to apologize or be honest or take a real look at who you are and move forward from there? Then you're gonna be just fine. It's when you stop being honest with yourself and don't pay attention to who you're becoming and how closely you're aligned that is with who you want to be, that's when things get bad. Be willing to admit your mistakes, and choose to be better next time. It's that easy. Or hard.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. Your old English teacher here is happy to help, as are a number of adults in your life. I promise. These adults, for the most part, know what they're taking about and they've lived more life than you. Don't totally dismiss them. Ask them for advice. Get their perspective. You might not listen. But hear them out.
A few other notes:
You're not really tired yet. I know, I know. Work is hard and studying is a lot, but you're never gonna feel this good again. So don't complain. Trust me. Never let "I'm tired" keep you from going out and doing something awesome.
Take lots of classes in college. Maybe ones that aren't in your major. Try new things. Also? Get to know your professors. Go by office hours and ask questions. Listen to the answers. This helps you be more than some rando in their lecture class and someone who can write you a letter of recommendation and/or help you when needed.
Be a good friend. A really, really good friend. Not just to your new college friends, but also your high school ones. You'll meet amazing people during the next few years, many of whom will be the people in your life forever, but there's something truly special about people who remember your ugly duckling phase and that you puked on the playground in 3rd grade. Don't let petty dramas or lack of time keep you from staying friends. In the era of Facebook, you have NO EXCUSES. Back in my day, we emailed surveys about one another and wrote long email chains. You've got SKYPE. I can't even.
Don't be afraid to let your weirdness out. We're all weird. We are. Those interests you pursue will lead you to Your People. You'll suddenly find that the world is full of people who like the same things as you do, and who think you're awesome.
By the way? You're awesome. Just as you are. If you start to forget that, I (or multiple other humans) can remind you. Don't keep yourself isolated. The world needs you and your own magic.
I'm proud of you. I'm so excited for you. And I'm beyond grateful that I had a small part in your journey. You'll always have a special place in mine.
With love and respect and probably some tears (SHUT IT),
(you can call me Amy now)