This baby sister of mine graduated high school on Wednesday, along with twenty or so other kids in her class, all of whom I know well and love dearly. I've known most of them, along with their families, for years now, and I consider several of them to be my honorary siblings. It was so exciting to see them graduate, yet so bittersweet. There were many smiles, many hugs, and many tears, both happy ones and sad ones.
As I watched them all don their red caps + gowns and receive their diplomas, I marveled at how it was possible that they were already graduating. At how crazy it is that they're going off to college in the fall. At how it could be that it's already been two years since I graduated. At how crazy it is that I'm already halfway through college, and how in two years I'll be graduating again ~ but this time from college.
In light of my sister's and her classmates' recent graduation, and as someone who can look back on high school graduation with two years of hindsight, I'd like to offer some thoughts to these precious graduates (and any others out there who might be reading). So my dear graduates, here I've written a letter for you...
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First of all, congratulations! You finished high school! I'm sure there were times over the past four years when you thought you'd never make it, or when you couldn't wait to be done. But you did make it. All your hard work and effort from the past four years has paid off. So pat yourselves on the back and give yourselves a high-five ~ finishing high school is a great achievement!
While I know you're excited, relieved, and proud to be done, I'm sure that at the same time, you're heartbroken. Graduating means that the life that you've known for so long now has come to an end. You'll never go back to your school. You and the friends you've been with for so long will soon have to go your separate ways, and you won't see each other for months. You'll soon have to pack up your belongings and go off to school, leaving your parents, your siblings, your pets, your house, your church, and everything about your home life behind. You'll soon find yourself in a completely new place with hundreds of people you've never even seen before, having to blaze a new trail and make a new life for yourself, completely on your own. Things will never be the same.
I know it sounds scary and heartbreaking. And it is. I remember when I was going through all of these changes two years ago, I felt like it was the epitome of bittersweet. It was exciting on one hand, yet incredibly painful on the other.
You might cry a lot, and you might ache a lot. You might wish things didn't have to change, and wonder why they have to. Your heart might break the first time you say goodbye to your friends, your family, your home.
It won't be easy. But that's okay. That's the way it's supposed to be. It's the nature of the transition from high school to college. It's the nature of growing up. Because you are growing up, and with growing comes growing pains.
But even though it's not easy, it's good. It's a good kind of pain. Not only because it's necessary ~ because everyone has to go through it. But also because it will help you mature and grow as a person. It will facilitate emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. It will cause you become more independent and more adult-like.
What is more, it will cause you to realize and reflect on how much certain things or people in your life mean to you, and urge you to treasure them. It will make you appreciate everything about your childhood and your home life so much more. It will make those times during college when you get to come home so much more special.
Because even though it feels like you're being separated from everything you've ever known, and that your life is changing so radically... you will come back. You'll come home on your breaks and over the summer, and you'll get to sleep in your own bed again. You'll be reunited with your friends, because they'll be home on break too ~ and those reunions will be so sweet. You'll get to go to Mass at your home parish again. You'll get to have your mom's home-cooked dinners again (which you will be so thankful for after months of cafeteria food). You'll get to live your home life again, and while it will feel like things are so different, or as though it's been so long, at the same time it will feel as though nothing's changed and no time has gone by.
And even though this phase of your life is coming to a close, you'll always have the memories. Never forget all the wonderful times you had in high school. Write them down. Reminisce about them. Hang pictures up in your dorm room. Do your part to maintain your close friendships, both long-distance when you all are off at school, and in person when you're all home. I know this sounds cheesy, but you will always have the people, places, and experiences that you've come to love so much in your heart.
So while you celebrate at grad parties, go dorm room shopping, and say goodbye to people this summer, make the most of all of it. Enjoy the time you have left at home this summer ~ these last precious days before things really change. Then embrace the changes as they come. Cry when the painful side of things hits you, but don't forget to smile at the exciting side of things. The changes you're going through this summer are bittersweet. But that's okay. Because they are good in so many ways.
I congratulate you all again, and I wish you the best of luck as you embark on your new paths! I know you all will do wonderfully.
Love and prayers,