by Alan Reinstein, English teacher
Your graduation is both a milestone and a stepping stone — one for seeing where you’ve been and the other for seeing the way forward. Whatever your plans are for September — work, college, the military, a gap year or anything else — just as you dreamed or feared, these plans will set a trajectory for your awesome and unknowable journey.
It’s true: awesome and unknowable. Neither you nor anyone else can see what this journey will be, so go ahead and surrender to your future’s splendid mystery, and here’s what you can do to steady yourself: ground yourself in three central principles of conduct — how you treat others, how you treat yourself and how you learn from all of the moments and people you will come across.
First, treat others respectfully — even the people you don’t respect (but try to respect them anyway). People and their positions have become so stubbornly attached that it’s hard to object to a political or social opinion and still respect the person presenting it. If you can, however, find a way to separate these two things — who a person is from what they do or say — you will see that others may turn out to be as changeable and complicated as you know yourself to be.
The other first rule (it’s a tie) is to be kind to yourself. We are all smudged and clumsy, but we are also capable of repair through our own gritty effort and belief in ourselves. If you put the work of kindness onto others’ shoulders or define yourself by some external marker of success or happiness, you will hinder yourself from the authentic and primal pleasures of self-reflection, self-awareness and self-advancement. Your happiness is your responsibility; others will contribute to it, of course, but you are ultimately in charge.
Finally, be open to learning from all corners. Regardless of what you do next year or where you do it, if both your eyes and mind are open, you will learn and grow. It’s inevitable. Any place you are in — a storeroom, a classroom, a living room, a tent — will offer up both its space and mysteries if you are willing to reach out with your own curious integrity.
Opportunities for intellectual, personal and emotional growth are everywhere and generously open to all. I say this to remind you that although our South community leans toward seeing some places of post-high-school activity as having more weight than other places, this is not true. What is true is that what you bring to a place will give it weight. Again, and always again, you are in charge of how you grow.
These are a few things I want to share as you, celebrating this moment, look behind you and also look ahead.