To Me, On my Graduation Day
June 14, 2013 7:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a letter to a wonderful graduate of the (high school) Class of 2013 on the occasion of her jumping off into that great abyss of adulthood. I'm hoping to include wisdom from random people on the internet (that would be you) about what you would tell your self if you could go back to the day that you graduated from high school so that I can include it in my letter. Travel back in that time machine, go to that shining day of your graduation and tell me what you would tell yourself, no matter how funny, sad, bizarre, etc.
posted by Leezie to Grab Bag (42 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Have as much sex as possible. Be safe about it.
posted by phunniemee at 7:28 PM on June 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

break up with your high school girlfriend / boyfriend.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 7:29 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, forgot to mention - if you are comfortable, please include the year or at least the decade that you graduated. Thanks!
posted by Leezie at 7:30 PM on June 14, 2013

Most high school seniors know that after you graduate you get to reinvent yourself, either when you start your first job or your freshman year of college.

A lesson most of us learn eventually, but usually painfully, is that there's no limit to how much you can reinvent yourself as you live the rest of your life. You aren't stuck the way you act now nor the way you choose to act at the beginning of the next phase of your life. Life is changing and if you ever feel that something about what you're doing makes you uncomfortable or sad, you change it right then and there. You are never stuck.
posted by telegraph at 7:31 PM on June 14, 2013 [7 favorites]

You will meet your husband at a frat party.
Lose the weight.
Be nice.
Research your tattoo and piercing studios. (Similarly: tattoos should be able to be hidden for interviews, at least for now.)
Trust your gut.
Live cheap as long as possible.
And you can always, always, start over, even if everybody makes fun of you.

posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:36 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a huge temptation in college and in your 20s (and to some extent, even after that) to be ironic and sarcastic and make fun of everything. It feels cool, and other people think it's funny, and TV people do it, and it seems to prevent you from getting hurt because you don't actually have to care about anything or anyone enough to be hurt if it doesn't work out. But if you maintain that protective shell all the time, you'll miss out on actually enjoying a lot of things, because making wisecracks about things often prevents you from being fully emotionally present. Don't be afraid to admit that you really do like people and stuff, and that you're invested in things in your life, and that you're disappointed or upset or sad when you lose things. Because being standoffish becomes a habit. And people who actually invest emotionally, at least sometimes, have higher highs and lower lows than those of us who pretend not to care, and even though you sometimes get hurt, it's worth it. Because that's what makes life really meaningful.

Also, get your dentist to teach you to floss properly, and do it every day, because that dental procedure you're otherwise going to have to get when you're 28 hurts like a bitch.

posted by decathecting at 7:51 PM on June 14, 2013 [8 favorites]

Don't underestimate or undervalue your accomplishments no matter how big or small they feel to you.

Don't be afraid to forge your own path. Life isn't a one size fits all kind of deal.

Be kind.

(Class of 2000)
posted by midnightstorms at 7:59 PM on June 14, 2013

Nobody expects a dog to change the world. When a dog loves hanging out with the people it loves, and learns some funny tricks, and wags its tail when someone pats its head, and doesn't tear up the house or crap on things out of spite, and is gentle with animals smaller and weaker than itself, and generally approaches things with the fun-loving gusto of a creature living fully in the Now, people know it's a great dog.

You might change the world, and that's good. But be a great dog.
posted by itstheclamsname at 8:00 PM on June 14, 2013 [13 favorites]

To my own self, I would say, "You're going to have an absolute blast and the time of your life from your mid to late 20's, so don't feel despair like "the best years of life" passed you by if you were miserable in college."

I graduated in the 00's...
posted by cairdeas at 8:03 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go out of your way to be friends with lots of different types of people, of different backgrounds, races, sexual orientations, ethnicities, so on and so on. Understanding where others come from is the best way to learn compassion. (Class of 98)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:04 PM on June 14, 2013

Lots of people will tell you that you must Follow Your Passion. And maybe you are one of those people who has a passion (and has some idea of what it is) -- but the odds are rather better that you are someone who is interested in, and good at, a whole bunch of different things. Please, please, do not fall into the trap of refusing to try out any of those things because they are not your "passion." Experiment widely. Engage broadly. There are many pathways open to you.

(Or, in other words, the perfect is the enemy of the good.)

1970. And yes, I am ancient.
posted by Kat Allison at 8:05 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Find your own tribe.

Nobody in college will know who you were in high school. Don't let yourself be defined by your high-school self, because the only person holding you to that is you.

Exercise regularly.

That thing that you want to do that seems like a stretch? That the cautious side of you is telling you maybe you shouldn't do it? Do it. (This is maybe more post-college advice.)

It's OK to make mistakes. It's more important to try to do something and mess it up than wait until you think you can do it perfectly.

Recognize when you're wrong and admit to it.

(class of 1984)
posted by adamrice at 8:06 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your brain is your most marvelous toy.
posted by carmicha at 8:08 PM on June 14, 2013

Approaching my ten-year HS reunion (class of '04)

You're on the verge of the best time of your life. But you can't really enjoy it unless you make a swift, deep break.

Don't abandon your real friends, and make sure you don't separate from your family. But understand that this is the moment in your life when you can find out who you really are.

And you can't find that out yourself. You can only discover it by meeting new people who don't know you, and who don't know your history.

Don't bother constructing your own narrative of who you are. Don't try to impress anyone. You can be what you want, and do what you want to do, and find like-minded people (to a degree you can't imagine) in the coming years.

Make the best of this. It's an exciting time!

(And listen to some Hall and Oates. Unironically.)
posted by graphnerd at 8:17 PM on June 14, 2013

Be flexible and adaptable - you have no idea what is going to happen to you 6 months, 6 years, 6 decades from now. Everything changes. Learn to roll with it and try to make the best.

Learn how to act professionally, and practice often in the adult world.

Student loans suck, worse than you can imagine. It is real money you're signing papers for; be wise in your choices.


(as a side note, no way in hell would I have listened to my own advice when I graduated, but I'd love to see it now!)
posted by Fig at 8:22 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't be shortsighted. Think, I mean really really THINK about what you want your life to be like when you are 30, when you are 40. That part of your life seems impossibly far away, but it is much closer than you think. The choices you make in your 20s will lay the foundation for the rest of your life.

Don't give a single flying fuck about other's opinions of you, don't worry about trying to be "cool." Pursue the things that bring you joy. The world lies before you with arms outstretched.

posted by gnutron at 8:41 PM on June 14, 2013

You're going to smell like pot anyway, so you may as well smoke up tonight (but try to keep it down when you get to AB's, and don't slam the toilet seat or trip down the basement stairs, her mom knows you're drunk).
Everyone knows you're gay, and it's ok (but it's ok to hold on to the secret a little longer, sneaking around is fun).

Speak up when people are treating you or anyone else poorly.
It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to tell people no. It's okay to make mistakes and then ask for forgiveness, as long as you're sincere.
Hang out with people you want to be like, but look for the good in everyone.
No one will be mad at you for waiting to coming out, and everyone you care about will still love & support you.
Push a little harder for what you want.

People are generally good, and are making the best decisions they're capable of with the information they have.
Call your friends & family a little more often.
You can't handle hard alcohol, so please don't even try (well, OK, try a few times-- Cancun in July, Smitheritas, and that one night after Shmoo, but really not much more than that [and don't order a ketel one & vodka when you mean cranberry and vodka, because you sound like a drunk, drunkie]).

posted by worstname at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't stress out about picking a major!

posted by whistle pig at 8:45 PM on June 14, 2013

Class of 1986

Dear high school senior me, you are about to make an unbelievable series of mistakes. That is normal; you are smart and adventurous, but you are only 18 and you really do not know jack about anything yet. I wish I could somehow transfer the wisdom that it will take you 27 hard years to win. But I can't.

So instead I will say this: make mistakes. Make them colossal, make them out loud. But, damn it, make sure they are mistakes you have made for you. People who mean well, and some who don't, will pull you this way and that. Believe it or not, you will know when the pull is in the wrong direction for you because it will feel wrong. Trust that feeling. Have a little faith in yourself. At times this may mean you will have to cause people you love a great deal of pain. But if you sacrifice yourself just to try to please them, that will only delay the inevitable and that will only make things worse.

You are stronger than you realize. Dare to figure that out sooner rather than later.
posted by fikri at 8:49 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

posted by ChuraChura at 8:57 PM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

You think you're in love, but you're not.

You don't need a boyfriend; you don't need a husband; and living alone is GREAT!

Let music into your life. Every different kind of music.

Take the course work you want in college even if everybody says you can't make it. You never know until you try. Or go into a profession you know you'll love, but everybody says you'll ever make money at. You'll make enough, and you will love what you're doing.

If you don't make enough money, you can always reinvent yourself. At 25. At 30. At 35. At 40....

You don't need a boyfriend; you don't need a husband. Living alone is GREAT!

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

Plan some kind of retirement.

Dance. Find guys who enjoy dancing and dance till dawn.

Try as many different things as you can in this life. Be open. Don't be afraid to look uncool or silly.

Enjoy people. Meet lots of people. Be as outgoing as you can. Listen. Have lots of friends. Date a lot.

Get outside as often as possible, whether it be camping, wine on the balcony, or a picnic in the park.

Learn to cook. Learn to cook at least one or two things that you can share with others.

Living alone is great. It's OK to have your own place and your own space. You're not weird.

Invite people into your space. Play games. Make them dinner. Talk.

Enjoy silence.

After you've grown to know who you are, it's OK to have a boyfriend. Just don't live in his pocket all the time. It's OK to have a husband you grow to know and then love. It's OK not to have kids, unless you understand the sacrifices involved. (and even then you won't really know what you're losing and what you're getting.)

Always be true to your passion, whether it be art, music, horses, computers, fashion, sports. Always. Plan for it in your life.

If I couldn't own a horse, I'd figure out a way to ride or take lessons. If I couldn't ride, I'd figure out a way to be around them, even if it were just mucking stalls. Horses are a part of me.

Class of '73. 1973
*All of the above realized slowly. My life is, and has been, good. But man, I wish I'd done lots of things differently to begin with, instead of learning the hard way or the long way around.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:01 PM on June 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Be choosy about friends. Pick ones who lift you up and push you ahead. Don't be dragged down or slowed down by friendships with people who have nothing or little to offer you. If you are not moving forward, you are moving backwards.
posted by Dansaman at 9:37 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go to a state school. You don't come from money, and a degree from Podunk State + no debt >> Snooty liberal arts college.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:55 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This too shall pass.

It is generally worth trying at least once.

Don't drink the gin after drinking the tequila.

At a Dead show parking lot, only drink something offered to you from an unopened bottle or can.

Complacency is the enemy of success.

Buy low, sell high.

Ask for her number (and call), you have nothing to lose.

Thank your mom and dad now, before you realize in 10 years they were right.

Always have a lot of quarters.

Change your oil regularly.

Do unto others...You want to have a good friend? Be a good friend!

Get outside your comfort zone on a regular basis.

Have good posture, otherwise your back will hurt as you get older.

Your good name is you best asset. If you lose it, you can never buy it back. Always remember integrity and honesty.

Don't be afraid to ask for help.

The warmest beer I ever had was just cold enough.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:58 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be good.

posted by ambient2 at 11:05 PM on June 14, 2013

I honestly have no idea. No advice.
(class of 2002)
posted by Nomyte at 12:01 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have more fun. Sleep around more (safely). DO NOT drink more than one Long Island Iced Teas. But having another beer is probably okay. Definitely make out with the dumb hot guy.

posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:19 AM on June 15, 2013

Strive to become as financially independent as soon as possible. ~ my HS counsellor

The world will change completely. Don't let yourself become obsolete.
(eg Learn something beyond BASIC)

Travel the world and the seven seas. ~ Annie Lennox

And finally, let your gut be your guide when it comes to peer pressure. Stay true to your own self.

posted by infini at 1:47 AM on June 15, 2013

Don't be afraid to do things by yourself. There's too much you'll miss if you only do things when you can find someone else to go with you.


Don't accumulate too much stuff. Be ruthless about getting rid of things you're not likely to ever use again.

Spend time outside, especially (but not only!) when the weather is nice.

posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:10 AM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Learn a skill that will always get you a job. Never completely count on someone else to support you. The freedom this will always give you is immense. You will never be trapped, you will never be stuck, and you will always be able to stand up and leave any bad situation you're in because you will always know that you can make your own way.

Now is the time for you to be impulsive, to be crazy, to go off on a road trip with no plan or destination, to save up enough to get to Europe, to do all those wild things that will turn into the stories you relive when you have settled into a life of obligations that make those things impossible. So do them. Do them alone if you have to. Don't let fear get in the way. You will regret the things you didn't do a million times more than the ones you did.

Use birth control, every time. Until you meet someone who makes you feel that your mutual children MUST be on this planet, use birth control without fail.

posted by lemniskate at 5:50 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

High school trains us to believe that if we are bright and talented and follow the rules, the world will take notice and give us our reward. We spend four years getting observed by authority figures and then we're all arranged in rank order, from best to worst, and shuffled off to the colleges where we belong, as though the college admissions process were a real-world version of the sorting hat at Hogwarts.

Underlying that system is the tacit assumption that you get, approximately, what you deserve. Fighting openly for more than you've been given starts to feel a little wrong, a little gauche, a little humiliating. After all, if you were really good at what you do, someone would already have rewarded you for it, right? A Hufflepuff is a Hufflepuff, a Ravenclaw a Ravenclaw, a straight A valedictorian belongs in the Ivy League, and if you wind up somewhere at the bottom or in the soft middle that's probably an accurate reflection of your intrinsic worth.

It's a training program meant to deceive us into believing we live in a meritocracy.

We don't.

That little part of you that always thought that the awards for "Most Improved" and "Hardest Working" were consolation prizes for people not gifted with natural talent is the part of you that will cripple you for life if you let it. The only thing that matters is how hard you work and how much you allow yourself to change. And you will only have the courage and the energy to change if you stop believing in the rightness of the judgments of the people above you. You have to believe that if you want something enough, and you try for it hard enough, the walls between you and what you're fighting for will eventually give way.

Ambition has a bad reputation. Ambition means striving, trying too hard, caring too much, embarrassing yourself over and over again. Ambition means going for something just out of your reach and falling flat on your face. Ambition means unapologetically wanting something and not hiding how much you want it from everyone around you, or from yourself, even when you fail. Ambition means not accepting your failures as permanent, or your place in the world as fixed. Ambition means demanding more from the world than it immediately want to give you.

If you spend the first decade of your adult life without ambition, you will wander from major to major, job to job, life to life, thinking you're okay but always a little bit anxious, a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit unhappy. The time you have to spend working a job will feel like an imposition, and it will be...but not because it's keeping you from watching television or hanging out with your friends or getting drunk but because you are not only killing time but wasting your life. No one is going to swoop in and rescue you from a life of mediocrity. No admissions letter to Hogwarts or to Fame or Success or a Meaningful Life is ever going to arrive at your door. You get what you wrestle away from the world and not a single drop more. So stop waiting around for someone to recognize how magical and talented and special you are, and start fighting for what you want.

Be ambitious. Be rebellious. Be brave.

posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:48 AM on June 15, 2013 [7 favorites]

You are not a failure if you don't have the rest of your life planned out at 18. Or at 25. Or at 30. Or at any particular age.

I really wish someone had told me this.
posted by corey flood at 7:00 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Here is the list I read to my grads this year. (I graduated in 1992)

1. Always pay your credit card bill. Credit cards are the spawn of Satan.
2. Keep perspective--a lot if the things that seem really important right now won't seem important 20 years from now.
3. Take care of your teeth and gums. Now. Floss today and everyday.
4. Get out and join clubs, meet people, talk to your professors/ Don’t wait for others to approach you. Go meet them!
5. As Dan Savage says, every relationship you get in will fail until one doesn't. There is no time clock for this.
6. Learn to cook and eat at home most of the time.
7. Walk away from people who treat you badly.
8. Don't be afraid/ashamed of your own opinions.
9. Save money. Even just a few bucks a week. Just make it a habit. You'll thank yourself later.
10. Have the confidence to do what you want to do. Don't worry what others think about it.
11. Never settle for less than you feel you absolutely deserve.
12.Lastly, just be open to life. Do things. . Most of my regrets are things I did not do, not things I did.
posted by sadtomato at 8:09 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't pick a major based on the classes you like to take. Pick a major based on the job you want to get after you graduate. There are so many job opportunities out there that you can't even imagine right now if you limit yourself to thinking about the handful of core subject areas you've touched on in high school. No one is going to pay you to analyze Shakespeare.

For the next decade+, forget about the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed using your parent's money.

Life isn't fair.

But you're still allowed to want what you want.

There's always something. At Tom Petty concert a few years back I remember him pattering in the middle of an extended medley, "...I thought to myself, wouldn't it be great if there was just one moment where nothing was wrong and everything was alright." And it would be great. But the reality is, there's always something. Learn to enjoy the imperfect moment you have now rather than always waiting to arrive at that perfect moment out on the horizon--when you'll have the right house, spouse, kids, job, and a well-mannered dog--because there's always something.

Attend all the live concerts you can.

--Class of 1986
posted by drlith at 8:55 AM on June 15, 2013

Flossing everyday and exercising every day changed my health dramatically. Wish I had started doing both of those earlier.

Be willing to do things other people aren't willing to and work harder than other people are willing to. That is crucial to success.

Get a realistic idea of how much it will cost to live the lifestyle you want. Keep in mind that 20 years from now, things will be more expensive than they are now. Plan your career accordingly rather than just assume things will fall into place financially.

posted by deanc at 9:15 AM on June 15, 2013


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann 1927

posted by matty at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Everybody tells you how much you'll change during the period of life you just got done with. Nobody tells you your life will change just as much, if not more, in your early to mid-20s. Don't be afraid if you get there and feel lost.

From this point forward, devoted work and follow-through matter a lot more than innate talent and bright ideas (and are more interesting and rewarding, too, trust me - it's great fun to get to be really good at things).

It is highly unlikely your best friend or the person you will want to spend the rest of your life with will just knock on your door someday. Meet as many people as you can, because you never know who will introduce you to whom.

You're in a relationship with the person they are, not the person you want them to be. If you don't like who they are in the first place, don't be in a relationship with them.

Your body needs energy to heal; sometimes you can get away with pushing through, but in general, it's a much better idea not to. Rest when it tells you to.

I know it's really fun to drive fast, but a lead foot is going to cost you thousands and thousands of dollars over the years. It's boring as hell, I know, but if you stick within six or seven mph of the speed limit, you're much less likely to get ticketed.

Class of '93.
posted by jocelmeow at 12:51 PM on June 15, 2013

Don't be afraid to do things by yourself. There's too much you'll miss if you only do things when you can find someone else to go with you.

This is excellent advice. Additionally, these are things I wish someone had told me:

Treat college like a 9-5 job. I knew a kid in college who worked 8 hours day at academic stuff, partied for eight hours a day, and slept for eight hours a day. He graduated with honors with a double major in, like, math and econ, and now makes a billion dollars. It's easy to get carried away with the loose scheduling of college life, but man, if you can organize yourself, you can be really successful (and build good work habits) and still have fun.

It is OK to stay home. What I mean is this: Metafilter (and lots of other educated intellectual types) is often big on the "do all the drugs! sleep with everyone! move to Kyrgyzstan!" advice that you will see above. I got a lot of that advice. I wish that someone had told me, at 18, that none of those things are required, and that you can live an extremely happy and fulfilled life without ever doing that stuff. Make sure that you are doing the things YOU want to do, and don't worry about how you're "supposed to" spend your young adulthood.

If you gain the weight, you will not lose it, statistically speaking. Keep the brownies and pizza under control if maintaining your current weight is important to you. (Not doing drugs will help you with this.)

Be friends with people who are kinder than you. If you hang out with nice people, you will want to be nicer, too. I used to be a lot more sarcastic than I am now, because I've surrounded myself with people who are just really nice, and I am much happier for it. Probably so is the world.

Class of '04.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 1:11 PM on June 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

I actually spoke at my commencement and though I don't remember exactly what I said, I remember I quoted Nathaniel Hawthorne ("Be true! Be true! Be true!") as well as Shakespeare ("This above all, to thine own self be true") (yes I knew Polonius was not to be taken entirely seriously). If I were giving myself some advice, it would be: how will you know how to be true to yourself unless you know yourself, know what you want, know what matters to you, know that you can do things for yourself; unless you trust yourself and believe in yourself?

Then again, I am still figuring all of this out anyway, and all the mistakes I have made along the way have been part of the learning. So although I'd be tempted to give myself some spoilers (Hey, you know how you've daydreamed a bit about that chick in Calculus? Yeah, about that... oh, and I hear Australia's kind of a nice place... but if anyone ever tells you they used to have a drug problem but they're over it now, nod politely and do not get in a relationship with them) - well, I don't know. Life is experience and I've had a lot. Who am I to try to cheat my younger self of them?

Class of (I had to think about this very hard) 1991.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:10 AM on June 16, 2013

I spoke at my high school commencement and I was told a good device to write a speech around is to quote someone and then discuss what it means to you and the class. I used a Harry Truman quote, "Never kick a fresh turd on a hot day." If you can remember that, your whole life will be easier.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:35 AM on June 16, 2013

The next five years of your life are, contrary to what everyone is telling you right now, not going to make or break you. Enjoy yourself, learn as much as you can, and don't sweat it if you feel like you have no idea where you're going. You'll get there eventually.

Whenever possible, say yes.

posted by breakin' the law at 7:31 PM on June 16, 2013

No matter how much you plan, there's a 99 percent chance that in 20 years you won't be where you thought you would.

Class of 1989
posted by hockeyfan at 9:20 PM on June 16, 2013

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