I had the opportunity this year to write cards congratulating two recent high school graduates and wishing them well on their coming college adventures. The following is a longer version of my messages to them.
Congratulations on your graduation. I almost added “from high school” but that feels inadequate. You closed the book on at least 14 years of mandatory, highly regulated schooling, much of which was in subjects you had little interest in and under people you may not have liked or respected. And you got through it. You completed your senior year while also making plans, leaping through flaming hoops, and establishing where you’ll be next. This is the part that begins to feel like adulthood, staying on top of what you’re doing while preparing to move somewhere else. Keeping your grades up and working. Working and getting a new job. Working and moving and making new friends. Working and planning a wedding and marriage. Working and raising a new puppy. You’ll have a lot of “working and” from now on. And you handled your first season of it successfully. Congratulations.
The person you’ll grow into in college and beyond will forever be changing. Sooner or later, you’ll challenge your own ideas of who you are and what you want. You might wake up one day and know in your core that your favorite color is no longer purple, that you love Brussel sprouts, that you’re brave or capable where you didn’t think so before. You’ll find all kinds of new activities you like and you’ll leave behind many others. One of the best parts of what’s to come is all the opportunities to just try things. Try that restaurant. Try that movie. Try that hobby. Try that trip. Try that sport. Your parents and the people who have known you practically from diapers aren’t telling you “that’s not you.” Don’t you dare do it to yourself. As long as it isn’t hurting you or anyone else (that’s my adulthood-required caveat), give new things a try.
When I was in the summer you’re in, planning for my college years and making lists and hiding my fears and enjoying every home cooked meal like I was moving to Mars instead of Georgia, I loved picking out things for my new room and my new life. I had choices where I never had before, like in my color of towels. I got to pick out whatever shower curtain I wanted. I chose decorations and colors that felt full of possibilities, that could hold all the new life I’d paint on them. You’ll need a lot of practical things, like spatulas and screwdrivers and a new pair of shoes. The gift I’m including can be for those things. Or it can be for something that feels frivolous but is also life-giving, like a succulent or a bird-shaped USB or a fuzzy pillow. I hope your choice, whatever it is, will feel full of possibilities. Why not have red kitchen utensils? Why not pick a lamp that looks like Medusa’s hair? Why not try a different color bedspread? Why not get a Game of Thrones cutting board or a tape dispenser that looks like a cat? Pick something that feels like you.
You don’t have to have everything figured out. You don’t have to be accomplished or ambitious or successful in everything. You won’t be. That’ll feel really freeing in a few years, even if it’s making you sweat right now. There’s as much or more to gain from learning who you don’t want to be, what you don’t want to do, as there is in finding something that suits you. And even if it suits you, you don’t have to stick to it. No one is going to stand over your shoulder and glare or try to guilt you about it, thank goodness.
Who you are now would be amazed at who you’ll be in a year. But college can be really lonely at first, especially if you don’t have friends going there with you, or when your friends are making other friends faster than you seem to be. Give it 3 months. In 3 months, you’ll have people to go to dinner with and plans for your weekends.
You’ll be okay. You’re building yourself into a whole new person in a whole new world, and you’ll be fine.