An open letter to the graduate

Sunday, May 12, 2019
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Dear Graduate,

You will likely not take anything to heart that I am about to write but you will never be able to say, “No one told me about this part.”

Trust me, young blood, there are many parts but I am only touching on a few. Let me offer some advice from personal experience:

• You are now fair game in society. Mom and Dad cannot save you. They can no longer argue with the coach or threaten to pull their sponsorship until you are put in the game or given an award. They can no longer throw around the weight you always depended on to ensure your happiness.

In high school, adults could only handle you with kid gloves. Now you are the unskilled gladiator facing a lion in a Roman coliseum and your parents aren’t allowed into the venue.

• Get ready for surprise crash courses in all aspects of financial matters. If you did not learn these lessons in high school, never fear. Life will teach you and you will never, ever forget what you learned the hard way.

Save your money and avoid credit cards. Remember private student loans are a scam you will not escape until your 30’s.

• If attending a university, most of your studies will be a waste of time and money. The idea behind university education is for one to receive a “universal” education, learning a little bit of everything.

This is why whoever is financially backing your education will waste thousands of dollars on philosophy courses, electives that lend nothing to your intelligence, the forensic crimes class you are interested in even though you are an economics major and things like ballroom dancing or “The Life and Legacy of Bob Marley.”

You will be required to take classes that have absolutely nothing to do with your intended major. Want to be a dentist? You need to take a class on Asian folklore from pre-1500 A.D.

• Avoid ending up in this newspaper’s Sunday police report. I hate seeing a promising youth go from a chance at a good life to a repeat guest in the weekly crime log. You have choices. Choose wisely.

• Speaking of avoiding bad press, do not end up in this newspaper for a tragedy or crime connected to a graduation celebration.

Graduation has very little to do with you. It’s about everyone who put faith, time, blood, sweat and tears into supporting you through 14 years of schooling. It’s about your parents and grandparents dreaming of your future. It’s about the mentors who led you to this point. It’s even about people like me, who photographed you at every DARE graduation, livestock show, science fair, Christmas play and athletic event.

Do not thank your supporters by putting yourself in a position where you can be injured, killed or facing criminal charges. One night of partying can erase everything you worked for and all you could have had.

• Having a roommate sounds fun and cost-effective until you realize their life becomes your own. Are they messy? Things will be messy. Are they bad with money? The rent is still due. Are they dramatic? Their issues will invade your life.

You will have to listen when they and their significant other fight for hours. Their relatives and friends will show up unannounced while you are trying to sleep or enjoy your own people. There are fun times but there are plenty of reasons roommates do not last forever.

• There are great bosses and there are horrible bosses. You will at some point wonder how a jackass in charge rose to power. Any answer you may receive does not matter. At some point, everyone works for a jackass. Remember that you need a paycheck. Jackass or not, you have bills to pay.

• Your circle of friends will probably begin a slow fade in the fall, maybe later. The people you thought would be there forever will not.

No matter how good of a friend you are, there will always be a person ready to drop you like a hot potato. Sometimes life just takes you and your buddies in separate directions. Some friends are by your side until death.

I promise that throughout the years, you will find people along the way who greatly impact your life, some for the better, some for worse. People come and go. Cherish the ones who stay. Enjoy the time you have with the temporary beings but let go when that time ends.

• You might become a parent soon or marry within a few years, even though you deny that possibility now. One day you are sitting in the student union studying with people from your biology class. The next day, you are sitting alone, staring at nothing, trying to grasp the fact that you are going to have a baby.

Some of you will have to leave college to care for your child. Some of you are going to be divorced with three children before you hit 30. If these scenarios bother you, I am sure you know how to prevent early parenthood and divorce.

• It takes very little for the fun to end. People with promising futures will sabotage their opportunities.

The high school football star might die of an overdose at 21. The girl who made straight A’s might become addicted to heroin and lose custody of her child. At least one of you will get behind the wheel while drunk or high and end up under a white sheet or in a holding cell.

But I am sure you can handle yourself and those things will never happen to you. So I will say “rest in peace” to some of you now, because the parties always claim a few. It happens with every class.

• You might find college is not for you. You know what? That’s not uncommon. That’s OK. Just make sure you can accept the consequences of whatever decision you make about school. Once you walk away from an education, it is hard to find your way back.

• You are getting older and so is everyone else. This includes your parents.

Some of you will bury your parents in the near future but you do not know this. You think your parents will be there when you graduate college, land that first big job, buy your first home, get married or have your first child. The story does not always go that way.

So while you are living your life, remember to call home or visit with your parents as much as you can. You don’t have forever with them but it feels like forever when you are without them.

Just trust me on this one, OK?

• You are going to fail. A lot. Like, you are going to fail so badly, people will talk about how badly you failed.

Guess what? We all fail. We get knocked down then we get over it, and you can and will, too. Do what you can and never take life too seriously. It’s not like any of us are making it out of here alive. But make it count while you are here.