Dear high schooler,
I’ve been where you are. Not that long ago I was 15, starting at a new school with new people in a new place. I was nervous, I was afraid, I was a little excited. High school seemed like such a big deal. In fact, back then everything felt like a big deal. Every minor detail of your life was life or death; who your friends were, what they thought of you, getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, homecoming, football games, the list goes on.
I’ve had a student come into my room crying and upset because of something another girl said about her. I’ve had students who refuse to go to homecoming because they didn’t have a date. I have students who could careless about their grades, but who believe that if they don’t start on the football team next year then their lives are over.
Obviously, all those things are important. Your friends, your grades, your athletic ability all are a part of defining who you are. But here’s the thing that I didn’t realize as a high school student:
High school doesn’t really matter.
If I walked into class one day and told you that, some of you would probably flip out. It’s hard to get a grasp on the fact that everything that seems like such a big deal at this time in your life actually isn’t. Most people don’t really become the person they are going to be for the rest of their lives until their 20s. I was a very different person at 16 than I am at 25. At 16, the most important things to me were my friends/boyfriend/social life and my grades. My grades were the easiest thing for me to control. I was a good student; I got straight A’s and scored a 30 on the ACT. I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA. Yet, in spite of that, I didn’t get a decent academic scholarship until my sophomore year of college. And that scholarship was not based on my high school GPA, it was based on the grades I got in my first year of college. Also, I’ve never been asked for my GPA, college or high school, on any job application. It’s important, but only for a little while.
When I think back on high school, the stuff that I made the biggest deal about were things involving my social life. My boyfriend and I fought because I wanted to go to the homecoming dance and he didn’t, and there was no way I could go without him. That would be social suicide and miserable. So instead, I forced him to go and was miserable anyway because he was such a bad sport and whined the entire time. I would’ve had more fun just going with my friends, and I’m sure he would’ve had more fun staying home.
I cried for an hour about the fact that a girl I wanted to be friends with because she was popular, lied to me about being sick so that she wouldn’t have to hang out with me. It was a really terrible lie because she lived across the street from me and invited several people over to her house 10 minutes after I called. I saw the cars. If that happened now, I would laugh and move on, because obviously why would I want to be friends with that person? I have better things to do with my time. It wouldn’t even be an issue I dwelled on for more than 2 minutes. It’s ok for people not to like me; not everything about me is likable. There’s no point in forcing relationships anymore.
I thought that senior prom was going to be THE premier event of my life. Like, seriously, how could anything ever be any better? Every single detail had to be absolutely perfect. I don’t even remember much about that dance other than the fact that the sequins on my dress made it extremely heavy. But my wedding. . .I can tell you every detail from start to finish. I will remember every moment of that day forever. And I didn’t even meet the man I married until well after high school.
I had friends on the football team who were defined by how they played. One boy I knew got very upset after a game because he didn’t play well, even though our team won. It didn’t matter about the team’s performance, all that mattered was him. He doesn’t play football anymore and I doubt that bothers him much.
Looking back now, none of those things mattered. I have none of the same friends I had in high school, so all the friendship drama was insignificant. I keep in touch with a few people, but we are all in such different places now – literally and metaphorically – that we don’t hang out the way we used to. The memories I cherish the most are the times I just laid back and had fun with those people. I remember our prom after-party at Lokomotion more than the dance itself. I remember wearing ridiculous outfits and screaming in the student section at football games, but I can’t tell you which games we won and lost. I remember going to Braums after choir concerts and eating out on the patio, but I couldn’t tell you every song we sang. I don’t think I could tell you anything about the lives of the girls I always secretly wanted to impress; we aren’t even Facebook friends anymore. The boyfriend issues that defined an entire era of my life are so insignificant now that it’s laughable.
High school was fun. It should be fun. The melodrama of it all is part of what makes it fun. But when it wasn’t fun; when I was crying on my staircase because I thought I had lost all hope of making friends, when I was upset over a boy, when I was bummed because I got 4th chair at All-State instead of 1st chair – those are the times I wish I had realized how little all of that mattered in the scheme of things. It’s hard to see past high school.
When you’re sitting in my class, when the coach takes you out of the game, when your “friend” says mean things behind your back (or to your face), what I want you to realize is that this is a time to have fun and get ready for your future. I want you to understand that life will get SO much better than it is right now. So many of you think that this is as good as it gets. You couldn’t be more wrong. I’m incredibly excited for you to experience life after high school. I can’t wait for you to meet your college friends. I can’t wait for the moment you finally decide you know exactly what you want to be when you “grow up,” and how you are going to achieve that goal. I can’t wait for you to meet the person you will spend the rest of your life with.
High school is not as good as it gets. Don’t ever allow yourself to get to a point where you want to go back. High school is great, but life after high school is so much better. Your friendships are deeper, your decisions are more important because you are making them on your own, your experiences are richer. One day, you will look back and you will laugh at the things you once thought would make or break your life. Right now your world is so small.
It’s about to get a lot bigger.
Dear high schooler,