A Letter to My Teenage Self on High School Graduation

Snapshot of a group of girls smiling for the camera in their graduation gowns
Carlisle High School graduation, 2002. Thanks for the photo, Vi!

Congratulations on making it through high school!  I know there was never any real doubt that you would graduate, but you should celebrate anyway.  No, you aren’t as emotional as many of the other girls, who are crying about leaving their best friends, singing Vitamin C’s graduation song, and talking about how life will never be the same again.  You’re ready to move on to bigger and better things.  But someday, even though you’d never want to relive it, you’ll be a little nostalgic about your high school experience.  So you should go to the graduation parties, have fun at senior beach week, and try to appreciate this moment — because it’s true, your life never will be the same again.

You’ll drift apart from your childhood friends, but you’ll reconnect with some of them years later.  You’ll reminisce with them about old times, and you’ll be amazed by the lives they’ve built and by how much they’ve grown.  You’ll learn that during their high school years, they were struggling with things you never knew about.  You’ll try to guide each other through the difficult life events that no one really anticipates — divorce, illness, financial struggles.  You’ll share with disbelief news of the tragic passing of several of your classmates.  You’ll find comfort in your shared past.

The years you spend in college will be some of the best years of your life.  Say yes to all the new experiences.  Do the things that scare you.  Try not to waste too many weekends driving home to see your high school boyfriend.  He’ll break up with you in a little over a year, and let’s be honest, you know he isn’t “the one.”  (Of course, that won’t make you any less devastated when he dumps you for a new girl.)  Your college friends are the ones who will be in your life for many years to come, despite the fact that you will all move to different places.  Spend as much time with them as possible, while you can.  Boys can wait.  You have plenty of time for romantic relationships, and they’re a whole lot better when you reach a certain level of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

The sooner you can let go of the desire to fit in, the better off you’ll be. Popularity matters a lot less in the real world than it does in high school. No matter how weird or uncool you think you are, I guarantee there are other people out there who think you’re amazing. You’ll find them quicker if you stop trying to be someone you’re not. When you stop obsessing over wearing the right clothes and having the right hobbies, you’ll open yourself up for deeper, more meaningful connections. You’ll bond over music tastes and profound books and shared life philosophies, and you’ll lose interest in friendships built on the superficial or the petty.

I know you really want to grow up, to be a mature adult, but don’t rush it.  You only get to be young once.  Enjoy it as much as you can.  You won’t become a grown-up just because you get married and buy a house.  You aren’t ready for that, and you won’t be ready for it in four years.  You’ll do it anyway, and you’ll be miserable, and eventually, you’ll learn from your mistakes.  Then, once you reach the other side of struggle town, you’ll build an incredible life that’s better than anything you could have possibly imagined at 17.

So make your plans, but realize that few things in life actually work out the way we expect they will.  Try to go with the flow, and treat every event and every person you encounter as a teacher.  The world is full of things you don’t know.  Approach it with wonder, curiosity, and gratitude.  This is just the beginning of a beautiful ride.

With love, from fifteen years in the future,

Me

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