As a student and as a teacher, I've lived on both sides of the desk. I understand the plights of my students for I once was right there in the seat they now occupy. Early in my teaching career, when I was positioned within a High School, I sat and watched as graduating class after graduating class would leave the school with an energetic bounce in their step... all the while, in the base pit of my stomach, I knew that some if not all of the kids that were leaving were doomed to face the same misadventures that I had as I left the security of my High School and ventured out onto my own.
It is with this insight that I now go out of my way to approach the future graduating classes and take a moment to give a few poignant tips of the trade in order to guide them as they go off to the wild blue yonder and the development of their future selves. Now yes - I fully get that there are massive amounts of websites, songs and news publications regarding advice for the graduating student of High School floating around out there, especially as June draws closer... yet I've found from the reaction of my students that my suggestions are better received, partly due to the fact that they're not so open-ended as the ones often found inside the well-wishing "Wear Sunscreen" articles that plaster the print day in and day out (not that there is anything wrong with the words of advice given therein -- in fact, I highly recommend that you take the time and hunt down "Wear Sunscreen" for personal reading reference). The advice that I give my kids is more to-the-point and specific towards their next big step, working off of personal experiences. So, for your reading enjoyment, I give you the speech that I give my students when they're close to graduating:
It's a time of hope. It's a time of dreams. It's a time of discovery. It's time... to get a job.
That's right, people. The free ride's over!
But as a parting gift to you, since I won't be up on stage during the ceremony spewing off a ten-minute speech while you roast under the lights in that itchy cap and gown wishing that the person speaking would just shut up and get this over with so you can walk that fifteen feet, shake the sweaty hand of the principal, grab your rolled up piece of paper and just get the heck out of there... I give you my simple list of life lessons for the student who is leaving High School.
Lesson #1: If you decide to continue on and go to College or University, take a light first semester.
There is a rather extensive jump in difficulty between class workload and expectations between High School and College or University, mainly because there is an assumption by the educators that with your more mature mind you are able to take on a higher level of thinking. Do yourself a favor and limit your first semester course load to 4 classes only. By doing this, you are giving yourself room to ease into the lifestyle that will consume your life for the next couple years. By only taking 4 courses as a maximum, you will be able to keep up with the reading requirements, your studying, your homework, your job, your friends, your life. One thing that no one warns you about higher education is that everything is assigned at the same time, everything is due on the same day and it will be worth 1/4 of your grade - each. I had a buddy of mine that coasted through High School and got rather high grades despite never studying. When we both went off to university he took a full course load his first semester, thinking he could do exactly what he did previous in this new setting. By midterms, he dropped out -- he just couldn't handle it.
Lesson #2 -- On the day before your 18th birthday, do something utterly childish.
It is your last day of childhood, after all. On your birthday, in the eyes of the law, you are now an adult. There is no going back! Everyone will now have adult expectations of you. Thusly, for your last day of childhood, go out with a bang and revel in your childlikeness. The day before my birthday, I told my friends that we were all going out and to dress well -- but I never told them where we were going. They thought we would be hitting some sort of club... instead, I took them all to the local Chuck-E-Cheese. That's right -- Good ol' Chucky! Picture if you will a gang of late teens dressed in their best attire running around Chuck-E-Cheese playing video games and the whack-a-mole, eating pizza, dancing with the animatronics... ah, good times!
Lesson #3 -- Accept the fact that you're going to mess up
You've got to understand something about this rule before I go into too much detail. When you graduate, you may think you know who you are as a person, but really... no, you don't. According to Psychology, during your teen years your brain matures to the point where you start to really establish your personality but it's not until you get into your twenties that you cement who it is that you will be for the rest of your life. Part of this fact is due to your parents stepping back and allowing you to make more and more decisions regarding your personal existence... and this leads to the base of this lesson. In your twenties, you are going to make some completely, utterly, no-holds, base-bottom, what-were-you-thinking stupid decisions. These are called your "growing pains," and will be that basis of the awkward stage of your life when you are coming to terms being an adult physically and mentally... and will become great cannon-fodder for tales to tell your kids.
Lesson #4 - High School was not a waste of time!
I can't tell you how many times I've heard my students talk about the utter idiocy of their classes, the uselessness of the material being taught, how they hated so-and-so book, bla bla bla. This is usually when I explain the point of High School to my students. It is not the material that holds value but the content of the subject. Math teaches you logic -- the innate ability to process the path of going from A to B to C. The Sciences teach you to question the universe and not to take things at face value; to find out how and why things do the things they do. The Humanities teach you to appreciate and learn from your past; to figure out where you came from so you have a stronger outlook to see where you're going. English teaches you how to communicate your thoughts in a clear manner, but more so how to argue your points with supporting evidence. Physical Education teaches you to push past your limitations and to get up and be active. The Arts teach you finer life skills like confidence, creativity, spontaneity and cooperation. These are just some of the courses available out there and I know that I'm missing some... but you see my point. The growth inside these aspects are key if you plan on making it in society.
Lesson #5 -- Get a job!
In order to get a proper understanding and appreciation of the work world, you must have at least one year experience inside some sort of employment that focuses on the following:
A. You have to work in a minimum-wage position. More so, you have to be the lowest of the lowest on the corporation ladder. You have to be the in-training underling that knows nothing. And more often than not, your position will require soul-sucking, hard, sweaty, mind-numbing repetitive menial labour that requires little to no responsibility on your part. The reasoning behind this point is straight-up motivation. After a year of this lifestyle, you will become highly motivated to better yourself and get out of that style of job by obtaining some sort of advanced education or training to qualify you for promotion or a better position inside another company. At this point, most just ask why they can't bypass this and start at the better job. I respond to this by stating, "Without the previous, you can't appreciate the latter."
B. You have to work said-job in a restaurant (or some sort of food-serving establishment). It's one thing to work a minimum-wage job behind a till or out in the field, but it's a whole different beast when food is involved. There are strict expectations placed with this position: Food safety, sanitation, presentation, ingredient construction and combination, special order when ingredients are omitted, using product prior to expiry, speed of construction, proper cooking of product... the list goes on. So many ways to mess it all up. And when it occurs, you will get the belittling speech questioning your competency. This leads to the concept of patience -- both in front of the counter and behind it. Understand that it will take time to master a skill, and it usually requires constant repetition and a barrage of errors along the way. But inside this workplace, a simple error might cause an allergic reaction so the pressure is even higher for these errors not to happen. As a consumer, you have to understand that the people making your order are not robots. They are human. Humans make mistakes from time to time. It's part of human nature -- it's how you learn. Accept it and move on.
C. You have to be up front serving customers. You can't be hidden in the back the entire time but be thrust into the trenches and be right up in their faces. This way you will be right there when you greet the smart-ass patron, the impatient consumer or the person that has had a bad day and has decided to take it out on you simply because the cook didn't put mushrooms on their order. And most importantly, you can't do diddly-squat about it because the customer is always right (especially when they're wrong). The purpose of this is so you get to experience society at its finest and come to terms that there are some straight-up idiots out there. There's no hiding from it. There are some golden morons floating about who think they are king of the world and will throw a temper tantrum if things don't go their way. A stronger lesson behind this is so that you will never EVER be that person. No matter the reason!
D. You gain a better appreciation of the hard-earned dollar. When you have to slave away for barely any currency (and the amount that you do earn is picked away with taxes, bills and dues), the pittance that remains takes on a wider sense of value. Suddenly, there's significance in every nickel that is left standing at the end of the day. Every cent removed is that much less that you can spend on things that you either need or want and will take that much longer to obtain your ultimate goal. All of a sudden, that which is bought takes on a whole new level of meaning as opposed to something given or borrowed. Now that object is associated with the phrase, "I had to work X amount of days to get this!"
And so as you walk across the stage and receive you High School diploma marking your start of the next chapter in your life, keep a few of these hard-learned lessons in the back of your mind. Good luck to you all.