At the beginning of June, I hopped on a plane with my parents and traveled to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., en route to my cousin’s high school graduation.
Throughout my four-day stay in the D.C. area, I faced a few large revelations. I became hyper-aware of my own similar experiences; I realized that my high school graduation, which feels like a recent memory, was actually six years ago.
Even as a millennial, there’s a clear difference between me and the next generation of young adults that walked across that stage. I’m no longer a newbie.
A lot changes in six years. Since I walked across the stage and received my Gunnison High School diploma, I’ve gone to college, graduated, gotten married, enjoyed the drinking age, traveled, made for-life friends, suffered great losses, began a new career, and lived in several different places. I’ve celebrated, cried, mourned, and hoped—felt depressed, excited, nervous, inexperienced, confident. I’ve grown and regressed, struggled and triumphed.
Like everyone else, I have lived and learned. For those who really did just walk across that stage and get their diploma, here’s some advice to take with you into whatever comes next.
How to make the most of your next chapter
Regardless of your plans out of high school, I think there are a few sure-fire ways to embrace the next steps of your life.
1. Sign Up for Things
You’ll hear this a lot, especially if you are a student. Sign up for clubs and activities and events, they’ll say, over and over and over. If you’re anything like I was in high school—active, eager, involved, overwhelmed—then you might feel burned out by the time you settle in at college.
My one major regret was not getting involved in things sooner. Even if you feel tired of being a student leader or always cramming your schedule, you are doing yourself immense favors by signing up for things. If not a college-sponsored club (I’m partial to the newspaper), then how about Meetup groups in your area? How about trivia nights and library events and local volunteer opportunities?
Sign up and show up. You’ll meet new people and learn new things and might just walk away with a new passion.
2. Make an Elevator Pitch
As an introvert, I really struggle with being talkative with people I don’t know. But here’s the thing: if you want to make new friends and connections, you have to bite the bullet and talk to people.
The way I got through it was to develop a short little elevator pitch about myself. It’s not a script per-say, but it’s a quick little guideline for talking about yourself. Go for 20-ish seconds that hits all the facts: your name, where you’re from, what you’re studying/your job, a fun fact.
I like to tell people that I’m from Colorado, live in the mountains, am a writer working in PR, and have an engineer husband. It’s evolved over the years, but you get the gist. This practice has been a HUGE help with me jump starting a conversation and feeling prepared to get to know others. Try it out!
3. Recognize Balance
Healthy practices are often jolted when you leave home. You’ll have the freedom to mix up your habits, eat and drink whatever you want, and sleep as much or little as you have time for.
Keep in mind: your body will change, and that’s really okay. You’re transitioning from a child into an adult, and not only is it normal to gain a few pounds and grow into yourself, but it’s also healthy. I would try not to take it personally, as long as you do a few small things to take care of yourself.
You don’t have to necessarily go to the gym or only eat salads, but I’d highly recommend treating yourself with respect. If you’re going to eat allllll the food (I certainly did), then maybe consider taking the stairs as much as you can, going for an extra walk after class, having a little dance party in your dorm, or drink more water than you think is necessary. Find a balance where you can, and do your best to reach it.
4. Say Yes to New Experiences
I’m a safe person. I tend to follow the rules and don’t always like trying things that push me out of my comfort zone. But there is a time and place for stepping out and glancing at the world through a fresh experience.
That’s where you can learn, grow, and create new memories.
If you get the chance, say yes to new things. Besides blatantly breaking the law or hurting others, use this new time to do things you wouldn’t normally—try new cuisines, wander through town with new friends, stay out later than you normally would on a school night. It’s okay to branch out and do things that aren’t always within your realm of familiarity.
5. Caring is Cool
Wherever you go and whatever you decide to do, remember that it’s okay to care. Whether you are excited about learning, are passionate about social change, or are enthusiastic about new opportunities, you should always feel comfortable about being authentically into it.
There will always be people who brag about doing the bare minimum in class, or who seem judgemental about those who always raise their hand or have a unique style.
You’ve likely heard this quote many times, and this won’t be the last, but keep in mind Dr. Seuss’ wise words: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Cheers to the next, big, exciting thing—filled with new adventures (big and small), information, experiences, people, and hopefully plenty of sunshine.