Oh, the places you grads will goGrowing up is all about watching black and white blur into gray. Black and white categories, ideas, dreams.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News-Chronicle
It was finals week and I probably should have been studying. I had two exams the next day and there was still a lot I didn’t know about Yeats’ poetry and modernism, or the interactions between the flu virus and the environment. But it was my last chance to spend time with friends before we went our separate ways for the summer and we weren’t even pretending to study that night. We were talking about how it felt to finish sophomore year.
“The hardest thing you learn in college,” my friend Julie said, “is that you’re not going to grow up.”
She didn’t mean that you would never feel older and more independent, or become more mature. What she meant was that we couldn’t count on some magic turning point in our lives where we finally have things figured out. Just because someone hands you a diploma or offers you a full-time job with your own computer and phone extension and company email address doesn’t automatically change things.
Growing up is all about watching black and white blur into gray. Black and white categories, ideas, dreams. You realize that adults will sometimes argue as incoherently as 8-year-olds. That there are jobs besides firefighter, teacher, veterinarian – jobs that can’t be explained in a few sentences or even a few pages, and that you might end up with one of them.
That most of what you write on forms doesn’t actually matter, and that nobody really checks to see if that’s actually your signature on the receipt. That everyone feels at one time or another like they’re faking their way through things, especially whoever is in charge.
It’s been two years since I graduated from Two Harbors High School. While in some ways I feel that I’ve become a completely different person, it’s not exactly the person I expected. There’s times when I feel more lost than I did when I started, and worse yet nervous that I’m missing opportunities, wasting time.
But I have grown and I will grow. In high school I liked to run races. I liked white lanes marked on black asphalt separating you from your competitors and leading you straight to the finish. I liked to believe that most things came down to a simple equation – the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. But logic and ambition sometimes wore me down to the bone, left me limping and unsure of why I was running anymore.
This wasn’t all bad. It got me places. And I still believe in the satisfaction of hard work and accomplishment. But leaving the clearly marked black and white lanes of high school, with its coaches and referees, reminded me to value friends and family more, to always question my motives and avoid competition for competition’s sake. That’s what made me grow up, between walking across the stage in Two Harbors High School and now.
Graduating and leaving for college gave me the opportunity to do this, but it wasn’t handed to me with my diploma.
It’s different for everyone, of course. But what’s important to realize is that maturing requires self-examination and purposefully putting yourself into new environments. Hanging around different people, exchanging ideas. Blowing off studying to have one of those conversations that lasts until no one can keep their eyes open anymore, but still doesn’t want to leave.
So wherever you’re headed, Class of 2012, keep questioning who you’ve been and where you’re going. You’re at an amazing time in your life. You’re on the verge, without yet having to worry exactly what it is you’re on the verge of. You’re lucky to be coming from a place with a tremendous sense of identity and community, and what I see, after leaving and returning, as a surprising amount of diversity of ideas and ways of living.
But you may not see that unless you challenge yourself to leave it and return, to change and also confront who you used to be.
Congratulations and good luck.
Sonja is a reporter for the News-Chronicle. She’s leaving this week for a month on a trip to France but will be back later this summer before heading back to Yale University.