Imagine you are going back to your high school and giving the students a speech about life, academics, success, hardship, identity and/or the pursuit of happiness. What would you tell them?
Adulthood; such a daunting thought. It’s an inevitable part of life, and for many people a place where they’re trying to sprint towards as fast as they can. Can you imagine finally not having a curfew, eating what you want to eat, or being with friends all day? You now have the power to be seen as an adult in the world’s eyes, and you can choose what to make of this privilege that has been given to you. College looms just around the corner, and I know I felt a mix of anxiety and anticipation at taking this next step of life. College means more than just receiving an education; it’s about getting more attuned to yourself and transforming into the person you’ve always wanted to be. It can be lonely at times, and I can guarantee that this bend in your journey through life can be the hardest hurdle you’ve ever faced. No longer will someone be there to constantly nag you to do this, do that. No longer can you unconditionally turn to that support system you’ve built up for years while growing up. It’s your time to step up and take that first step into carving a path you will make for yourself. I’m not trying to scare any of you, but I’ve always wished someone had told me that I should steel myself for this part of my life.
College doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. But it is inevitable that you’ll find yourself completely lost and without purpose at least once. Whether it’s because you got lost on the first day of class, or forced to reassess your life because you realized you hate the field you intended to go into, these experiences help you develop into someone you’re proud to be. High school doesn’t prepare you for the expectations that are set upon you once you go to college. But, it’s all about attitude and creating your own support system to get you by. I can speak from personal experience that it can take a lot longer than you expected to realize that growth is necessary to become successful in life.
I remember like it’s yesterday when I was sitting in your place, getting jittery to get that diploma in my hands. I remember sitting through the speeches thinking “when is this speaker going to end?” I remember I was so excited to “grow up” and go off into the “real world” once I graduated high school. The very thought of living on my own away from the influence of my parents was enough to get my excited about college. I grew up going to very diverse schools where I was actually part of the minority. I found myself more comfortable in a group where everyone was from everywhere and diversity was just a part of life rather than something to strive for. However, once I got to college I became just one of the thousands of ambitious freshman in the biggest class in history since UCLA’s beginning. I wasn’t doing well in my classes and although I was very active in high school, I wasn’t participating in any organizations or clubs during my first year in college. I kept giving myself excuses; “transitioning to college is always hard ,” “no one ever gets amazing grades first quarter,” “first year is always the hardest,” until eventually that’s all I was ever doing: giving excuses. I was starting to sell myself short, and settling to blaming external factors for the fact that I was so unsatisfied with myself. I just accepted the fact that I was just another “average” student that wasn’t good enough to fulfill any of the dreams I once had in high school. My apathetic attitude towards my education spread like a cancer to every thought I had until my whole outlook of my future, my self-confidence, my own strengths spiraled around one thought: I wasn’t good enough. I hadn’t even realized how far down I’ve gone on this road of self-deprecating thoughts and unhappiness until the summer after my second year. That summer was a turning point of my path of self-discovery. I had literally forgotten the person who I used to be; happy, ambitious, goal driven, and now I was so lost and confused that I felt that there was no possible way for the fog to lift. Then, I had the opportunity to get involved at a department on campus called the Community Programs Office. I applied for an internship there even though I was wary of change and unfamiliar places, but I figured I had nothing to lose and nothing to occupy my time during summer school. This one pivotal choice that in my eyes at the time was full of risk and unconventional started a chain of events that changed my entire college experience.
For once, there were people that I felt that really understood the struggles I was going through. I was so used to feeling like the bottom of every possible list that I hadn’t realized that there were others that felt just like me. This departments’ whole purpose of existence was to help students holistically rather than just focusing on academics. I started to face my own inner demons and trying to overcome them by challenging myself to push beyond my limits. Limits. Limits are a funny thing. They seem so concrete and unmoving, yet with just one choice, one small step outside the beaten path you can begin to see the webbed cracks on the supposed boundaries you’ve set on yourself. Taking that first step into becoming active in spaces outside academics, I began to rebuild my self-confidence and assurance that I WAS worthy. I was pushed in aspects of myself that I had no idea needed help. Professional skills, communication, leadership; all of these qualities were addressed. Over the past year, I’ve seen myself grow exponentially since that pivotal choice I made last summer. This one snippet of time when I decided to just skrew the unhappiness and the confusion going on my life and just GOING for it was the best thing I could have ever done for myself. It was like the world had just tilted just a tad, and now the preconceived notions I had for myself were actually not as true or final as I thought they were. For me, my first two years of college was spent closely staring at one brick of a supposed enormous wall of obstacles and hopelessness. But after taking that first risk, that first step to the side, I realized that the wall wasn’t as unstoppable as I first thought. One shift in perspective can change your whole view of the world and of yourself.
So what’s the point of my long spheal of my college experience? Take the risk. If an opportunity presents itself to you, just go for it! You have so much more to lose by not giving yourself the chance to push yourself to indulge in a new experience. Growth can come in waves if you just make that first dip into new waters. Your life has barely begun, and adulthood is just another step in your journey of self-discovery. Your age may state that you are now an adult, but you will never truly be mature without taking risks. Once you take that first reckless step, more opportunities will open up and in the words taken from my favorite book series Harry Potter, “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
Now graduates of ________ High School, I leave you with this question. What would you do if you were at a crossroads; one continuing along a beaten familiar path that you might not necessarily be happy with but you’ve been walking down for a while now, and the other that has sprung up before you for a split second. While it’s full of uncertainty and the promises aren’t guaranteed, would you go for it? The answer may seem simple now, but actually facing this decision is a daunting task. Just remember that challenges shouldn’t be taken negatively. How would you ever know if an opportunity for growth awaits for you in a seemingly simple decision unless you take that first step by committing? So, live life pushing your limits, growing, and blossoming into the adult you’ve always wanted to be.
Written by Lauren