In June of 2015, I watched the other 332 kids in my grade cross a stage, turn their tassels, and shake hands with our soon to be ex-principal. Haphazardly and offbeat, we threw our caps into the air and perhaps, mid-toss, realized that our caps were mementos that we’d throw into closets as soon as we got home, and stumble across later as we packed our things to leave our childhood homes for good.
On leaving the church where I had my convocation, I expected to feel reflective and tearful and so nostalgic that I’d spend the rest of the evening drawing connections between the last four years and this one evening—like how, pretty much karmically, the first person I met in ninth grade was the person I sat beside during the ceremony. Instead, I was irritable and hungry and exhausted; having to clap and cheer for 332 other people was a big strain on my delicate hands. After the ceremony, my family and I ate at Red Lobster (me so apathetic I didn’t even order dessert) and then I went home, tossed my cap into my closet, and shrugged myself into bed.
Weeks later, like The First Cry after a breakup, it all came out—unfiltered. All at once, what graduating high school meant for me as an *gulp* ADULT hit me. I’d seen enough movies to know that there was a ton of buildup to the actual graduation (looking at you, High School Musical 3: Senior Year), but there wasn’t a ton of material about what to do post graduation. Who did I want to be? What was going to happen to all of the friendships that I had spent the past four years nurturing? Some of the answers to these questions are elusive, but the rituals that have helped me through the searching for them are not. These exercises have made the transition from pre- to post-graduation a little bit easier. By channeling my nervous energy about getting older into self-expression rather than self-destruction, I’ve learned how to be happy while constantly changing and growing.
If you’re about to don the cap and gown and are feeling overwhelmed about the impending ~PROBLEMS~ that may occur after you cross the stage, I present to you some tips for combatting that oh-god-I’m-an-adult-now feeling.
Problem: Drifting apart
The fear of drifting away from your high school friends is not only common but also totally justified, due to the widely perpetuated notion that high school friend groups are disposable and transitory. The idea of a friendship existing outside of the social environment where spent the four years thriving can be daunting. Post-graduation, there is more than enough reason to be fearful of the supposedly inevitable DRIFT, but the acknowledgement of that fear doesn’t mean that it actually has to happen.
The beautiful thing about post-high-school relationships is that you are making the conscious choice to invest your time into these people: You’re friends with them because you WANT to be, not just because you see them every day in biology class. I’ve found my relationships with my friends have grown considerably stronger since high school ended, and yours can, too!
I realized that I didn’t want to passively allow important relationships to fade away, like, “WHY YES, WORLD, I WILL TOTALLY LET COMMITMENTS GET IN THE WAY OF THE HAPPINESS THAT MY FRIEND GROUP BRINGS ME.” Instead, you can be like: “WHY NO, WORLD. I WON’T JUST IDLY STAND BY! I WILL ACTIVELY PRESERVE THESE RELATIONSHIPS THAT GIVE ME LIFE!”
But what does actively preserving a relationship post-graduation actually MEAN? It means putting in emotional energy to maintain closeness. If you don’t already have one, make a groupchat ASAP! It’s been absolutely instrumental in allowing my friend group to make plans. It also allows us to check in when we go long periods without seeing each other.
No sugar coating: it’s not easy to maintain closeness with people, each of whom has their own responsibilities and schedules. My friends and I rarely get to see each other, but that’s why it’s so much more special when we do hang out. On that note, make your own traditions! Post-graduation, my buddies and I annually attend music festivals and have NEVER skipped out on our secret Santa holiday party. If music festivals aren’t your group’s thing, consider renting out a cottage for a week, or going on the totally cliché but absolutely necessary post-high-school ROAD TRIP.
Make a zine about all of your favorite things! Start a bookclub! Have movie nights and sleepovers and thrifting hauls and brunch! Indulge in the beauty/tragedy of platonically loving a group of people that you are no longer able to see in the school hallways every day.
Tell them how much you love them, too! Nothing stops the driftin’ more than open communication. If you have a lot of time (and glitter!) make a friendship box, if you’re looking for a quicker way to spread the luvvv, give your buddies gratitude cards!
Let your group breathe. If you hold on too tight you run the risk of creating resentment, for them and you. Your group will inevitably grow in size. Since graduation, my friend group has naturally expanded to include some of the silliest, most loving people I’ve ever met—people who make me forget that we didn’t go to high school together. High school is ephemeral, but your friend group doesn’t have to be.
Problem: Decisions, decisions, decisions…
On the first page of every Choose Your Own Adventure book is a warning that reads: “You will be asked to make a choice. Your choice may lead to success or disaster! The adventures you take are a result of your choice. Remember, you cannot go back! Think carefully before you make a move!” This warning could very well be written in invisible ink on the back of your high school diploma, because never will your life feel more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book than the second you graduate. If you haven’t already committed to a post-secondary institution, you are most likely going to be overwhelmed at the amount of Life Choices that lie ahead of you. Do I take a year off? Do I go straight to university? Do I travel? Do I move out? Do I work full-time? DO I STAY SANE WHILE TRYING TO ANSWER ALL OF THESE QUESTIONS? The only question I know the answer to is the last one, and that’s a big YES.
There’s a reason why almost every graduation card from Hallmark contains the phrase, THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER! It’s because, asides from being totally cliché, it’s true. If you’re in a privileged enough position to choose what to do post-graduation—like going to university or deferring for a year, for example—then you may be totally confused.
Chances are you’re more than aware of the common paths that follow high school; traveling, working, attending college (or doing a combo of all three). But it can be tough to determine what YOU want to do. Before you commit to anything, give yourself permission to figure things out. When you’re immobilized with the fear of making the wrong choice, daily affirmations can take you out of your negative headspace. Remind yourself that you’re not SUPPOSED to have everything figured out! Here are some examples of post-graduation affirmations:
- I allow myself to not have all of the answers right now.
- I lean into my discomfort.
- I acknowledge that everything will work itself out in time.
If you’re ready to start planning and think you’d might like to travel, consider au pairing or participating in a Workaway. During the summer of her graduation, one of my closest friends used Au Pair World to contact a family and, come September, left our city to au pair in France for an entire year. She’s exploring Western Europe on her weekends off, traversing Paris during the week, and making money when she looks after the kids. If changing diapers isn’t your thing, Workaway offers alternatives to nannying, including gardening and housekeeping.
If you’ve already committed to a university, understand that, in most cases, you will have the option of working toward your degree at the pace that YOU feel comfortable with. I wish someone would have told me I could take as many classes as I want (or didn’t want), and that taking off a term to work or travel is a totally viable option. Overall, cut yourself some slack! You just finished fifteen consecutive years of education, it’s more than okay to kick on the autopilot and cruise.
Problem: Growing independence.
Sure, this may not seem like a problem, but many recent graduates will find themselves in a world of ever-changing relationships, especially that of parent and child. What once was a relationship with clear boundaries now exists in a gray area. What are their new expectations of you? When in the HECK is your curfew? Do they expect you to pay rent? All of these questions should ideally be answered within weeks of graduating. Sit down with your parent(s) and (respectfully) explain to them what changes you’d like to see. Maybe you want your newly adult curfew to be 2 AM, but they INSIST on midnight. Do your best to find common ground—you’re old enough to communicate in the face of disagreement. As you continue to live with your parents, they may start to look at you as more of a roommate. Regardless of whether or not you pay rent, you’re an adult who lives in THEIR space, so demonstrate to them that you can keep your room clean.
An exercise that can help sort out any feelings of animosity is the good ole pros and cons list. Grab yourself a piece of paper and list out every advantage and disadvantage to living at home. Living for FREE (PRO)! Not able to walk around in my underwear (CON)! You get the gist. If the cons far outweigh the pros and you’re financially able, a big chunk of your summer may be spent apartment hunting. Whatever you choose, keep in mind that moving out, whether this summer or five years from now, generally improves relationships with parents/guardians.
The independence that comes from graduation will extend itself far beyond your home life: It can offer you a new perspective on your old habits. Graduating high school encouraged me to reconsider friends and hobbies that I’d previously considered permanent. While it’s totally awesome to want to maintain relationships from high school (see above), it’s also important to let yourself drift away from damaging friendships and practices. Marie Kondo, a famous Japanese organizing consultant, says that the key to tidying up your home is answering the question: “Does it bring you joy?” If yes, you keep the item. If no, you let go of it. This question extends further than household objects: You can ask yourself this of friends, hobbies, romantic partners. Graduation is already a time of change so HARNESS it. Let toxic and unsatisfying relationships fade and nurture those that, like Marie says, bring you joy.
Congratulations! Graduating high school is complicated and overrated and totally magical all at the same time. Even if you don’t realize it the second you turn your tassel over to the “graduated” side of your cap, it is a big deal. You’ve completed four years of one of the most romanticized periods in a human’s life. Problems are inevitable, but if you can remember to tell the people in your life that you love them, to be a good roommate to your parents/guardians, to ask yourself what brings you joy, and to be adaptable and grateful, then the transition from adolescence to adulthood—no matter how scary it may seem—can get a whole lot easier. Besides, it’s all happening. ♦