I feel the need to give a quick preface regarding the following advice. As with anything being told to you by a seventeen-year-old, emotionally-charged child, please take it with a grain of salt, and remember that everyone’s experience is different.
Bring a pencil to school every day. This sounds dumb, but many of my friends ask me for pencils and never give them back on a regular basis. Don’t do that to your friends, guys. If you do it too often, they will legitimately stop wanting to do favors for you. Pencils seem small, but if you can’t even remember the single most important thing to have when you walk into school every day, I’m bound to be frustrated by you.
Along those lines, try to remember to be kind to others. Be considerate of what other people may be experiencing in their private lives, and make a general rule to treat everyone as best you can as often as possible. Of course, it is still important to stand up for yourself when you need to and have the ability to say no. But if you aren’t at least working toward kindness every single day, you should start.
Try to make new and different friends. Break out of your comfort zone and talk to someone who isn’t in your social circle just because you can. I can’t say I’ve done a great job of this and it also definitely sounds like advice you would give to a kindergartener. But I have honestly found that the most beautiful relationships are those that are spontaneously established over a single class you might have with someone or an obscure common interest. Everyone has something interesting to share, and giving unique people an opportunity to influence your life not only opens your eyes to new perspectives, but makes it easier to care for and be nice to other people.
Don’t forget to remember and love your old friends, though. The people that you have a lot of history with are the best people to have around when you’re struggling in school or in your personal life. They understand you and love you no matter what stupid thing you do. Remind them as much as you can that you appreciate them.
Be smart about your time. Late nights are inevitable for most high schoolers, but what’s important is knowing when is a good time to use them. Being on your phone until 2 am just for fun is never a valid reason to stay up too late and make yourself unable to focus in school the next day. Try not to let the late nights pile up and turn you into a zombie. I promise that coffee only goes so far.
Find your passion. I truly believe that everyone has something that gives them meaning and purpose in life. High school is the perfect time to explore that. Whatever it is, invest some valuable time in it. Not only will it help you feel more fulfilled in the future, but our ability to time manage and develop good habits increases exponentially when we have a more limited amount of free time.
Eat interesting food. Elizabethtown isn’t exactly known for access to a lot of different cultures, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to be ignorant. Explore with your food choices first, and eventually branch out to explore the world in whatever way you can. Read the news when you have time, talk to exchange students when we have them, and always ask questions.
Try not to let what other people say affect your mindset. This is a hard rule to follow all the time, but it’s a little easier to follow in smaller situations and work on for the big ones. For example, don’t let what other people tell you make you biased when you go into a class. Everyone’s experience is different, and I have often spent more time worrying about a class before I’m in it than I do while I’m taking it. You have to be willing to make your own judgments. Take the classes that you want to take, and don’t be afraid to choose for yourself what you can handle. Other people don’t know how well you manage stress, and they can’t accurately assess your intelligence. Advocate for yourself and trust yourself.
Remember that it ends a lot sooner than you think right now. I hated when people told me this as a freshman because I felt like graduation was an eternity away, but it’s true that high school goes by faster than you can imagine. Don’t be scared of the future or anything crazy like that, but try not to waste a lot of time. The more you fill your time with things that you find enjoyable, or that teach you how to be a better person, the more you will grow and the more fulfilled you will feel when you find you’ve made it to the end. I have faith in you, so you should too.
So enjoy your summer, and try to remember that the most important rule of all is to keep returning to joy and kindness. Bad things will happen, so you have to be the one to turn them around for yourself and others. Do your best to be a positive presence in your school and community, and take every struggle as a way to learn.
Also, never let anyone convince you to write an advice column because it always ends up sounding cliche.
Anyway, good luck to those graduating, and good luck to those who are still on the journey. And remember to thank your parents, do the laundry at least on occasion, and try not to eat too many spiders in your sleep.