Twenty years ago this week—almost to the day—I graduated from high school.
(This is the moment when you should all respond with exclamations and comment on my youthfulness. But I digress.)
Though the day was two decades ago, I still remember so many moments from it. The graduate breakfast at the Methodist church. My white cap and gown that required you wear white underneath it. The short trip to the Bernie School cafetorium (yep, cafetorium) from my parents’ house with my brother, during which we had a fight, probably because I was nervous and on edge about giving a speech. I still regret that fight even though I can’t remember what it was about. I remember the joy of seeing people I didn’t expect who had come to see me graduate and the reception my parents threw that afternoon and the friends who stayed late into the evening, knowing that our lives were somehow changing.
Twenty years later as I think back on my high school graduation and consider the Class of 2017, a few thoughts come to mind.
- Time passes quickly.
My high school graduation may have been 20 years ago, but I’m finding out that what my parents used to say when I was growing up is true: it doesn’t seem that long ago. While I’m by no means ancient, high school doesn’t seem like it’s two decades in the past. On that Sunday afternoon in 1997, I would have found it hard to imagine myself in 20 years, but I probably would have thought that I would be much wiser at 38, that I’d understand more of life’s twists and turns, perhaps that I would be more “successful” by the world’s standards. Maybe I am a little wiser now, though. At 38, I better understand that being “grown up” doesn’t mean you know all the answers or have it all together; it may very well mean that you’re willing to admit you don’t.
- Be open to a change of plans.
Class of 2017, you undoubtedly have plans for how your life will go. That is right and good, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But one thing I’ve learned in the past two decades is that life often doesn’t go as planned. I had an idea of how my life would go when I graduated high school. I would go to college, maybe grad school, I’d live in an apartment in a city on my own for a bit “just to see if I could.” I’d be married, and I’d have kids. Many of those things have come true; others didn’t. But things I didn’t really plan for or imagine happened, too. I never would have dreamed that I would go to grad school and earn a theology degree. I spent a decade of my life using that degree to be an editor of curriculum and devotional material for teenagers, a job I loved. But when God closed that door and opened a new one, He gave me a job I never would have imagined that I find absolutely fulfilling. Have your plans and work hard to achieve them, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you can’t walk through the doors God will open in your life, opportunities you can’t even fathom right now that lead to fulfillment, joy and hope.
- Cherish the moment, but see it as the beginning of a new chapter.
Without a doubt, high school graduation is a milestone to be celebrated. But rather than seeing it as the end of something or the highlight of your life, recognize this moment as the start of a new chapter. What is behind is the past and the future lies before you. Don’t hang on to the “glory days,” thinking your high school career was the best days of your life and nothing else can compare. Don’t dwell on the bad choices or circumstances that defined those years either. Graduation is the start of a new chapter, a turning point, a beginning. Embrace it as such and walk forward believing the best really is yet to come.