I’d like to extend my congratulations to the high school seniors graduating this June. After four years of disfiguring acne, pointless feuds, comically overwrought heartbreak, and entirely worthless pursuits of social acceptance, it is now time to hit the reset button on life. All the people you spent the last four years bickering with, envying, lusting after, judging, denigrating, worshiping, and creepily stalking will become just vague memories relegated to your yearbook and to the corner of your mind devoted to remembering Heisman Trophy winners. There’s no need to worry, though, because they’ll all forget you, too.
For many of you, being considered cool was the be-all-end-all of high school accomplishments. Forget the SAT and the ACT: if you sat the popular table and acted with an unearned sense of entitlement, everything was gravy. Nothing mattered more than being invited to the “right” parties, where you and all the cool kids would huddle around a few fifths of Burnett’s and try to develop drinking games that would involve both pants and inhibitions being dropped. I want you to remember those parties and cherish those feelings of being on top of the world, because within the next five years at least half of you will be either addicted to methamphetamine, working at gas stations, buying alcohol for minors, jailed for misdemeanor sex crimes, riding the bench for the local community college’s basketball team, or sobbing into your tattered lettermans jackets while reminiscing about the days when you were socially relevant. I hope you all enjoyed your time atop the mountain of cool, because it is pretty much downhill from here.
For others, the only purpose of high school was to be a stepping-stone for college. Forget learning to socialize, it was far more important to protect that 4.0 GPA by isolating yourself in your dreary bedroom on Friday nights, slaving over calculus drills and editing admission essays. If that was your attitude, chances are you know where you’ll be attending college next fall (and chances are you spent your entire senior year alienating your classmates by bragging about the prestigious schools you were accepted into). I hope you realize that once you matriculate to college, not a single person will ever again give a crap about your high school scholastic accomplishments. It’s clean-slate time, suckers. You’re about to go from being big, brainy, pretentious fish in a small pond to being utterly anonymous and unimpressive. But hey, at least you have four more years of grades and intellect being the only things that matter before going out into the real-world and facing the stark realization that knowing how to successfully interact with others is far more critical than any knowledge of how to apply the chain rule.
Others of you are perhaps breathing a big sigh of relief right now, fantasizing about all the ways you are going to “reinvent” yourself post-high school. I’ve got news for you people, too, and it is that no amount of metamorphosis is going to matter to anyone besides yourself. Sorry, but it’s true. If you were a total booger-eating dork these past four years, that’s the only way your classmates are going to remember you. Sure, feel free to show up at the ten-year reunion with a super model on your arm and an impressive salaried job; to everyone else you’re still going to be the kid who shat his pants during the field trip to the pioneer museum. Your classmates have spent the last four years pigeonholing you, breaking your entire personality down into a few easily recognizable and risible traits. Do you really think they’re going to discard four years of hard work simply because you don’t eat spoiled food for money anymore? Fat chance. I hope you enjoy cultivating the “new you,” because it’ll be entirely irrelevant with regards to how your former classmates discuss you and treat you going forward.
Conversely, there are probably bunches of you that don’t want to change in any measurable way, especially when it comes to your puppy-dog love. You believe the person you’re currently dating is your one-and-only, the Topanga to your Corey; it is inconceivable that your heart will ever be devoted to another person. It’s time to let go of your Romeo and Juliet fantasy, though. People grow apart; it’s inevitable. It is nonsensical to isolate yourself from meeting new people just because the person you fell in love with at fifteen is still available, propped up on some pseudo-creepy pedestal of perceived perfection. Remember when you were little and you used to vie for the corner slice of cake since it had the most frosting? And you know how disgusting and repulsive that onslaught of saccharine sweetness now seems to your more refined tongue? Yeah, high school love is kind of like that. I don’t say this to invalidate your experience, but rather to let you know that relationships started after high school are far less emotionally taxing than those forged in the depths of pubescent angst and horniness. Give yourself room to grow, space to open your heart, and permission to snog random strangers in a dingy club because you’ve managed to ascertain over the blaring music they like the same TV shows as you. That’s called maturity.
In all seriousness, though, kudos to you all for surviving what were certainly four years fraught with frustrations, difficulties, and challenges. Before you head off towards your new horizons, make sure to profusely thank your friends that supported you, your parents that housed you, and your teachers that tolerated you. While the diploma is technically (and deservedly) yours, the process of achieving it was a cumulative and collaborative effort. You should all be proud of what you’ve accomplished, while at the same time focused on achieving in even grander things in the future. The memories you’ve made in high school will last a lifetime, and you’ll cherish your classmates—yes, even the ones you didn’t quite gel with—far more than seems conceivable right now. So cue up “Good Riddance” and start tearfully hugging those around you. It’s time to celebrate.
(And learn how to open a beer bottle with a lighter. That’s seriously the only skill you need in life.)