I am one of you – a BASH graduate. Actually, to be fair, I was one of you… 15 years ago. Which, typing that, makes me realize I should probably stop telling stories about my “glory days” in high school throwing exploding bottles in the yards of jocks we didn’t like. For “glory days” context, when I graduated we all had flip phones that charged us PER TEXT and Zern’s was still open in Btown. It has been a while.
I know a lot of you right now are thinking how “Rona” is ruining your coveted Senior Year, but I think you are looking at it all wrong. Here’s why. People don’t generally remember things in their lives that went to plan. The really good stories we remember (or brag about) are the times when something extraordinary happened.
Every other year people walk across a stage for graduation and forget about it in a day. I sure did, and I was the Class President. You, on the other hand, get to spend the rest of your life telling the “softer generation” - which, by the way, is every generation after yours, regardless of which generation it is – how you survived the biggest pandemic since the Spanish Flu.
Don’t worry, just like every good story, you exaggerate the details and leave out the part where you slept in every morning for half a year instead of going to class. All I’m saying is you had a unique senior year experience the rest of us never had, and that is cool.
Speaking of life ruining your plans, get used to that. I always think of the quote, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”
We go through life as adults trying to control our lives and get this and that, but in the end we are trying to win a game that we barely know how to play and no one knows how to score. We work hard for things we value (which may have no value at all) and make choices that we hope have favorable outcomes. All we can really do is the best we can to increase the odds in our favor and mitigate the risk of a bad outcome… just know the enemy (fate, God, Murphy, whatever) has a vote, too.
Another nugget of advice from someone who is a few tiles ahead of you on the game of Life (aka me) is to do YOU - which is kind of ironic, if you think of it. I’m telling you to do what you want, but I’m advising you to do it. Hmm.
Anyway. Professionally, there are a lot of folks, who, with the best intentions, will try to tell you the right path to be successful. Unfortunately, or fortunately, finding happiness and fulfillment in your productive, professional life is not a cookie-cutter recipe for everyone. You can’t just throw a bunch of the same ingredients (degrees, money, fame, etc.) into a bowl and expect the same result. People value things differently.
Going to college is not the golden ticket your parents and teachers have probably been peddling the last four years (or more), either. College may or may not be important to YOU. Or it may or not be important to YOU right now. Or it may or may not be important to YOU ever. There, I said it.
My mother literally cried and told me I ruined Christmas Dec. 22, 2006 when I enlisted in the Marine Corps. My grandfather, whom I admire and respect, told me I was wasting my life by becoming an enlisted grunt. Like many of your parents, they saw anything outside of attending a university kind of like most people think of guns - If you have never used one or been taught to use one responsibly, it’s scary and dangerous and kills people indiscriminately.
Years later, after travelling Southeast Asia in the Corps, when I used my GI Bill (meaning I got paid to go to school) and graduated from Penn State top of my class, their perception changed a little.
All I am saying is that you can be happy doing a lot of jobs, and if college isn’t going to get you there, then fine. If you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life right now, then know that college isn’t going anywhere if you choose to do something else while you figure it out.
Which leads me to my next point... high school is over and you will probably only keep contact with your core group of friends. This can be both terrifying and exhilarating.
The bad news is that as you get older and lives diverge away from the painted bears of Philadelphia Avenue, it gets harder to maintain friendships with your real friends. It takes a lot more effort to align schedules and coordinate geography to work in your favor.
The good news is that you trim the fat of all the superficial relationships you have. Your paths will cross once in a while when you visit home or on a Facebook message board, but that’s it. The people who are not important in your life simply fade away like a firework sparkle. Additionally, you don’t have to be pigeonholed into the person you were in high school the rest of your life. In fact, no one in the adult world really cares you were in high school. Most people in the adult world don’t care who you are period, to be quite honest.
There are only a handful of people whose opinion you should care about – a spouse, your kids, a few friends, a select number of coworkers. People that care about you, that you care about, and those who count on you. Don’t waste time trying to please everyone. You have been stuck with roughly the same cohort of people the last 18 years. Enjoy the freedom of starting fresh, taking some calculated risks, and investing in becoming the person you deserve to be.
The last thing I want to tell you from the other side is don’t waste your time intentionally. Which is something everyone says. Time, of course, is our most valuable resource. It is one of the only things we cannot make more of, and at the same time, we don’t know how much we have. With those two truths, how the hell are we supposed to ration it properly?
Here is the great part - you will waste a lot of it accidentally. Pretty sweet, right? No. But seriously, you will waste a lot of it. Adults, I have found, tend to call this “experience.” We all run through life as adults and try to figure things out. Can you picture some of your “experiences” and how you had to stumble through them to gain any sense of competency… reading a book, driving a car, trying to get to second base with someone of the opposite sex (is that reference still relevant?).
We take classes, read self-help books, and talk to friends so we can maximize our time and be as successful with life as possible… and, of course, then we ignore what everyone says and try to date a prostitute from a third world country anyway (ask me how I know).
All those times you yelled at your parents for being stupid and unfair were probably examples of them trying to figure out how to be parents. Fun fact, nobody really knows how to parent. We are all just trying to figure it out through trial by fire. You would think that after being parented for 18 years you would know how to do it, but you don’t. NOT AT ALL (ask me how I know).
Oh, and all those teachers who you thought gave you mindless assignments instead of meaningful experiences probably were getting “experience”, as well. They were trying to perform their lesson plans for you the best they can, despite all the things happening in their personal lives, which you were oblivious to (ask me how I know).
Luckily, though, if you are a generally nice human-being, people will cut you some slack. If you focus your energy on what you value and don’t give up, you will achieve most of the goals you set for yourself, despite all the time you wasted getting there.
As a cherry on top, you will be able to think back to your “glory days” and laugh at yourself and all your fumbles along the way (ask me how I know).
So, I’ve told you some pretty solid things to get you started after high school… at least, in my opinion.
Find what you like to do and what you are good at, turn that into something you can live off of (you can’t feed your family hopes and dreams at dinner), and then chart a path to get there.
Spend your time wisely, at the same time knowing that your plans will get messed up or altered, either through your choices or nature (read COVID-19). Failure and wasting time, I mean getting experience, is part of the game.
Do your best to statistically improve the chances of success and buy down risk, but you will gain experience regardless of your efforts. No one plans on getting a flat tire, although people plan for it by keeping a spare in the trunk. I’m no expert on life, by any means, but I have done a few things and been a few places. Take my letter to y’all as just ramblings from an alumnus trying to tell you that the world isn’t as scary as it looks. Enjoy sleeping in and the time you have until you take your first wobbly steps into adulthood.
Tony DeVito, Boyertown Area Senior High 2005 Class President, Adult level: intermediate.