What I’ve Learned Since High School Graduation

I remember bits and pieces of my high school graduation. I remember the songs they played at the ceremony. I remember Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” performed by a classmate and, I think, that Vitamin C song that was popular among the class of 2000. Wasn’t it literally called “Graduation Song?” I can hear these songs playing, not loud enough, through the portable speakers on the football field, most of the notes immediately caught and carried away by the wind.

I remember lots of photos at the ceremony and lots of deli meat trays at my open house afterwards. I remember the emotion. That giddy, nervous, nostalgic feeling that comes out as laughter and tears at the same time, which, of course, is how it feels anytime you’re on the precipice of something new, except that was the first time I felt it; it’s the first time most of us feel it and it’s so frightening and so glorious that first time.

Of course life is full of transitions and milestones. That’s what I want to tell the Class of 2015, as they walk across the stage and smile as strands of their equivalent to “Time of Your Life” play in the background. As a quick and sudden sob catches them mid-laugh. As they plan for the future, write down goals and tell us where they’ll be in 10 years. Life is full of transitions and milestones and you have to make sure to be present and aware when they’re happening, and that you slow down enough when they come so you can feel them and remember them.

You want to acknowledge your life’s mile markers because they will become the reference points that are tied to all the little moments and memories that string together a life.

There are milestones that are measured in years. Like the decade I’ve spent in Vail, marked last month. The last 10 years have been full of the most unexpected, upside-down-but-wonderful moments of my life and taking a moment to notice the anniversary gave me a chance to remember all the best hikes, campfires, trips, nights out and family dinners of my (first) decade in Vail.

There are transitions that come on all-at-once and are bittersweet and take your breath away, like hearing the news that my dear and so well-loved grandmother is in Hospice care and that my parents accepted an offer on their house (the one I grew up in) all in the same week.

These kind of transitions are so confusing and, therefore, it can be easy to shove them aside. The emotion doesn’t make sense. You wonder how you can feel so sad about bidding adieu to a house you haven’t lived in for more than a decade. You remind yourself that grandma is nearly 89 and has been unwell for a long time.

But that house and your grandmother are parts of you. You feel safe and comfortable in that house. You know every part of it and it represents a sense of security, of coming home.

And your grandmother. Where do you even start? She made you dresses and cookies and sweet tea. She wrote you letters about being a young girl growing up in Kentucky and celebrating in the streets on V-J Day. She sent you emails on random weekdays and told you about what she ate and who she saw that day. She told you to be strong when your heart was broken. And she has read every, single thing you’ve ever written. Losing her feels like losing a bit of yourself.

These transitions suck. But if I’ve learned anything since my high school graduation, it’s that they’re unavoidable and that ignoring them feels somehow worse than feeling them. And that they’re almost accompanied with another event—like, say, the pending birth of your first niece—that is just as joyful as the others are painful.

So, Class of 2015, as you enter into your future, as you make plans for the years ahead, don’t forget to account for a little extra time for the transitions. The transitions may throw you off track here and there and they may crack you a little from time to time, but they’re such an important part of the journey and they’ll most-certainly make that journey richer.

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