Two very special young people in my life have just graduated from high school. Both are heading away to college – one across the country after spending two years at a boarding school near home and the other, a five-hour drive from home, his first time leaving the nest.
Because there’s so much I’d like to say to them and never enough time with them sitting still to listen, I’ve decided to write a letter to them here. If it resonates with you, share it with the young people in your life. I also invite you to add your own thoughts and advice for high school grads in the comments section.
Dear Z & K, (and M and C and A and all the rest of you!)
I have absolutely loved watching you grow up – from the days I held you held you as newborns to now, when it’s a quick hug and you’re gone. You have grown into a strength and beauty and brilliance that shines on all those around you.
Those of us who love you would have loved you without any of those qualities, but by watching you grow into such wonderful, confident young adults, we feel especially proud.
As you enjoy this last summer before college, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about your life ahead. You can take it as advice if you wish, or if “advice” is something you don’t want from those of us who have been around that block, then consider it as a message of love for who you are now and hope for who you will become.
- You are blessed with people who have showered you with graduation gifts. Not every graduate has the blessings of so much support. So be sure to thank those people quickly and sincerely. Try to make your thanks personal to each giver, not something that sounds like you’re just filling in the blanks of a thank-you form and trying to finish a to-do list. A lifelong habit can start now of expressing your gratitude for those who do kind things for you.
- You’ll meet plenty of new people at college, but you also both have friends going to the same school as you. Cherish both sets of friends. Give yourself space from your old friends to build new friendships. Breathing room is important in any relationship – friendships and romances. As counterintuitive as it may seem, space strengthens the bonds you have. One of my college roommates went home every weekend except for one her freshman year. I think she missed out on so much of what is fun about college and lost the opportunity to build lifelong friendships. It was sad to watch then, and I would not want anything remotely similar for either of you.
- Both of you will be studying engineering. Take time for fitting in humanities classes, even if they aren’t required. I taught technical communication to engineering majors when I was in grad school, and being able to speak and write well is an invaluable skill that you should continue honing. You may also not have a foreign language requirement, but try to fit in at least a semester or two of a language. While you’re still young, you can more easily learn new languages. It’s a great asset to companies looking to hire you, and it even makes you a better speaker and writer of English. (For those of you majoring in humanities, try to add in some math and science classes that will round you out and give you a different sort of class to break out of the sameness in your schedule.)
- Try new hobbies, even though you’ll feel busier than you ever had with your studies. The studies are more important, of course, but this is truly the easiest time in your life to try new activities and see which ones you love most. You can also get student discounts now that you won’t be able to get later. So take an art or music class. Learn a new way to dance. Or try something else that piques your interest. When I was in college, my scholarship had a requirement that I attend a certain number of cultural events each semester. That forced me out of my usual activities, and I discovered things I loved that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried.
- Visit your professors during their office hours. Not all will be receptive, but with the ones who are, you’ll learn much more than by only going to class. Plus, you’ll be developing a mentor relationship that can prove valuable once you begin your job search, and even well into your career.
- There’s a Drive-By Truckers song with a line that says, “Call home on your sister’s birthday.” No matter how busy you are, it’s important for your younger siblings to hear from you from time to time, but especially on their birthday. No excuses!
- Stay in touch with extended family and friends: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends. Growing up, it was pretty easy to see us. We still love you as much as ever, but it won’t be as easy for us to stay in touch after you go away to college. So contact us when you can through e-mail, phone calls, Facebook or blogs. Plus, you don’t want to cheat yourself out of any care packages that might come your way. But we gotta know your mailing address!
- Keep the faith. No one’s going to drag you to church/mass. As you discover who you are becoming as an adult, God can anchor you, walk beside you and guide you through tough decisions that shape your future. It may be more tempting to stay out all night Saturday partying because there’s no curfew. But make Sunday morning (or whenever a church you like has a service) an unshakeable part of your routine.
That last one’s really the most important. Enjoy the time ahead of you, despite the many stresses that will necessarily come along with it. Before you know it, it’ll be over, and you’ll find yourself wishing the next generation well as they head off to college.