(Illustration by Devyn Park)
The reality that I’m going to be graduating high school in a few short months has only just started to sink in for me. My feelings about this are mixed. I’m scared. I’m thrilled. I’m just a little bit sad, but mostly I’m still in denial that these four years have flown by so quickly. I’m going to miss certain things, like community workshops in my writing class, or pretending to work on homework with my best friend at the cafe down the street after school and deferring our essay outlines for mindless conversation after five minutes or so. Other parts, such as having to ask to use the bathroom and eating in a cafeteria that smells like socks, I will not.
My high school experience has been pretty fun for the most part, and I feel like I really got a lot out of the past four years. I’ve certainly had some unexpected experiences, which I like to think I have learned from. Going into my freshman year, I got a lot of great advice from older friends and family members, but some things I had to work out for myself. Since I am, in fact, seventeen, I don’t have everything figured out, but I do think I’ve gained at least a little bit of wisdom.
First piece of advice: Do fun stuff outside of school. You’re only a teenager once. Sometimes I wish I’d spent less time doing boring stuff related to school, and more time going to concerts and events, or spending time with friends. If you’re a lame nerd like myself, putting aside schoolwork to go to a roller rink or a trampoline park or a solstice party might make you nervous, but stuff like this is what I remember the most. I don’t remember getting an F on my argumentative essay because I only finished half of it, but I do remember ice skating downtown with some friends and staying out late searching for a place that served decent hot chocolate on a school night. Try and get important assignments done, of course, but don’t forget to enjoy life. You’ll have math homework every night until the day you graduate, but most haunted houses only stay open for a few weeks, and are much scarier after dark.
Don’t get in a car if the driver is inebriated. This may seem oddly specific, but seriously, I know of people my age who have gotten in pretty grisly accidents this way, and I’m probably a bit more paranoid about being involved in a car crash than most people. You always hear health teachers telling you not to drink underaged, but I feel like this piece of advice is something that I haven’t heard nearly enough, considering I know it happens all the time. I don’t care if you’re at a party and you don’t have your full license yet and they’re your only ride. Dying young isn’t cool. Sleep on the couch or call your brother.
Guidance counselors are under-utilized resources. For a long time, I kind of thought it was lame to go to a guidance counselor for help, but seriously, making appointments has been so helpful in quelling my anxiety about college applications and grades this year. I know that for people I know who are having personal issues and can’t see a therapist, the counseling office is a great free, easily accessible resource. Sometimes, by pure luck (or the alphabetization of your last name), you can get stuck with a school counselor who maybe isn’t all that effective. If that’s the case, if you have a trusted teacher who could offer you help, that works too. There are definitely flaws in the way schools accommodate the personal issues of students, but often teachers are more willing to offer help and guidance than you may think.
Look for opportunities for learning experiences wherever you can find them. One of the failures of the American education system is that it conditions us to think of learning as a chore at a young age. For the longest time, I thought the only real education I would get would come out of textbooks and worksheets. It took me a while to realize that I could gain some really unique and incredibly applicable knowledge by volunteering and applying for things like internships. For me, working as an intern for a political campaign was one of the most difficult, stressful things I’ve ever done, but it was so worth it. I learned a lot. I met new people. It was a strange experience, but the opportunity presented itself to me purely by chance, and I applied on a whim. My English teacher once told our class that half of life is “just showing up”. Getting involved in things and jumping on any opportunity that sounds interesting to you will at worst, make for an interesting story, and at best, look amazing on college and job applications.
Keep a notebook. This is one piece of my own advice that I’ve consistently stuck with since freshman year. Maybe being in a writing program has made this instinct to me, but I think that everybody can benefit from having a place to record thoughts, observations, and occurrences. Having a blog is cool too, but there’s something so fulfilling about putting a pencil to paper and having a tangible collection of thoughts to hold onto for life. Looking through old notebooks and reading fourteen year old me waxing poetic about the thrill of skipping class for the first time is cringey, but also feels a bit like stepping back in time. I know that years from now, I’ll look back on my current journal and read about little things like what I had for breakfast and the last movie I saw in theatres, and I’ll be glad I took the time to write down even seemingly trivial things.
Maybe none of the above advice particularly resonates with you, or you disagree with me in some way. That’s alright. This was mostly based off my own experiences, which were, of course, unique to me. Hopefully, if you’re reading this and you’ve recently started high school/are about to start high school/are still currently in high school, you’ve found at least a little bit of this helpful. Ultimately, high school is what you make it. Make good decisions, and put your health and happiness first. Cherish good memories, learn from bad ones, et cetera, et cetera. Good luck, and happy new year.