From your 2016-17 ThunderZone President: A message for graduates

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Hopscotch.

Right foot, left foot, both feet, ten                                             Giddy fervor draws feet back to square one                                        A two-three, a four, five-six, a seven;                                            What happened to Mister Number Eleven?                                 Bouncing pigtails fly in the air until the finish line dares them to stop.                                                                                            No matter!                                                                              Again I’ll find the edge,                                                               The toe-lifting edge                                                                        of the tenacious square we call Number One                                And go, as the cycle repeats                                                      With a hop                                                                                   A skip                                                                                       And a                                                                                    Jump.

During childhood playground games, I engaged in endless new beginnings without a hint of concern for successes or failures. I’m convinced we all must’ve learned early on that it was  possible to skip back to Square One from the brinks of Square Ten. Simplicity, however, dissipates in the jagged atmosphere of adulthood. Recently, I’ve wondered: is it still practical to “return” to Square One?

As graduation has gotten closer and closer, I’ve perceived two types of people. The first of these groups are so ready to graduate that they can hardly stand it; and, with their eyes are on the prize, a sort of tunnel-vision forms to shun High School and embrace every genre of procrastination. The second of these groups is apprehensive beyond consolation; and, as the 26th of May draws nearer and nearer, their blood pressure rises in correlation with their grip on Westlake’s front doors.

Being thrown into this world on our own is a double-edged sword. It means things like responsibility, change, autonomy, and independence. And without an sort of app or handbook to tell us how to handle the weight of those new concepts, it’s safe to say that most people–among both of the groups I described above–feel some degree of uncertainty about what comes next. I know that I do. Once we’re through with squares one through ten (high school), are we supposed to go back to some sort of Square One, or are we supposed to invent some sort of Square Eleven?

There came a day in my life when I realized my scintillating childhood dreams of maturing as a cosmonaut, clinician, and climatologist (respectively) became a black ash heap of impossibility. As I endured what my parents liked to coin a “reality check,” I was forced to go back to Square One. Trial and error brought me back to that ignominious pathway I had once sauntered, and I was made all the better for it. And if I can return to Square One (the drawing board), anyone can.

Still, I remember another time around the age of ten or twelve that I gave up my “playground” persona for a more sophisticated character. And to this day, I can’t say that I’ve ever returned to that particular drawing board. At a time when my peers were losing their ability to indulge in childish things, I felt as though my liberty to choose otherwise was crippled. While changing yourself during those years was not uncommon, it required one to forfeit their entire identity. Thus, my ability to visualize new beginnings as promising and favorable was tenuous. I was entirely swallowed up in the inception of adolescence. I went on build new pleasures upon some Eleventh Square, and to be fair, I can’t say that it was a bad thing. However, I wouldn’t have been the same person under different circumstances, so I guess there’s still a gray area there.

With all I’ve learned from experiences these past seventeen years, I haven’t yet discovered what helps most when embracing change. Is it returning to Square One, where old experiences can be built upon in new ways? Or, is it embracing the change and moving on to Square Eleven entirely? I think the beauty of this idea is that there really isn’t an answer. But that’s what we’re all scared of. Each of our paths are going to be unique. That is why adulting apps and post-high school advice books aren’t a bigger thing.

After graduation, there’s no going back. (Unless, of course, your dream in life is to be one of those super-seniors that still lives with their parents at the age of 29.) There isn’t any one of us that can go back to our first day of Chemistry. There’s nothing that’ll take us back to that first big rivalry game. We’ll never have another first Prom, or another first kiss. We’ll never get these last couple weeks before graduation back. Right now, life is good and decisions are still chilling in the future-tense.

But what happens two Fridays from now, when we walk out of the Marriott Center with a diploma in our hands? Are we going to give up in the midst of a mid-life crisis? Or are we going to click our heels and shout for joy? Either way, life is going to keep moving forward, and time is going to keep ticking.

The only thing we can do at this point is decide to grasp our future with both hands and run at the ambiguity of adulthood with confidence in all that we’ve learned up to this point. Great white pillars of promise are waiting for us at the forefronts of change. I’m certain of that, if nothing else.

Congrats, fellow graduates of Westlake High School! It’s been a pleasure to serve all of you (as well as the rest of Westlake) this year through the creation and building up of our school’s media website, ThunderZone. I’ve loved interacting and creating memories with many of you. I wish the best for you guys, and I’m excited to see where our class of 2017 ends up someday! Whatever direction you decide to go next, I hope you’ll have purpose and confidence in your decisions.

See you on life’s playground.

— Kaitlin Gray                                                                                               ThunderZone.org Founder and President 2016-17