“No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.”
– Althea Gibson
I picked that quote in particular because I remember pretty clearly the time when I first heard it. It was back in September 2011, when all the new eleventh graders of my high school had a meeting in the auditorium. Some spokesperson from the yearbook company came in and tried to convince us to buy class rings. He gave us a bunch of generic stuff about how important high school is, and how graduating high school is such a huge accomplishment, and how lots of people helped us along the way.
I agree with all of that. I couldn’t have gotten through high school without the help of many different people, all with various contributions. Whether it was moral support, help with studies, pushing me to take insanely hard classes because I could handle them (hi, Mom and Dad), or just being there for me.
I’ll go into that for a second. But I graduate high school in approximately five hours, and right now—in my last few hours as a high schooler—I want to address the obvious factor playing at my emotions right now: the nostalgia.
Have you ever had something really incredible happen to you, and it’s so unexpected that you don’t even freak out, because your mind isn’t letting you register that it just happened? That’s what graduation is like whenever I think about it, at least right now. I’m not bouncing up and down with excitement like I was for Prom; nor am I being slammed with sadness like I was on my last day of classes.
Let’s be blunt here: getting a high school diploma isn’t that big of a deal for me. I know some kids really work for it, and earn it through hours of studying and hard work and dedication, and I respect those kids immensely. But let’s look at me personally, just for a second.
Yes, I had a lot of homework, and yes, I worked my butt off these past four years. But If I’d really wanted, I could’ve taken all the basic requirements Freshman year, filled my class spaces with free periods, and had mounds of free time. I don’t consider it an accomplishment that I chose to cram my schedule with college level classes. Insane, maybe, but not a huge accomplishment.
Don’t get me wrong, graduating high school is a huge accomplishment for me (and everyone). But not because of the diploma. That part was easy for me. The hard part was getting through the leap from a tiny private middle school to a large public high school. Or finding the right people to be friends with. Or staying away from the wrong people to be friends with. High school is so complicated, and for a lot of teenagers—myself included—academics are the least of our struggles.
The real struggle is finding yourself and making sure you don’t lose it along the way. And after four years, I’m proud to say I did that. I’ll direct your attention to exhibit A, a post I put on Facebook recently.
Now THAT, I am proud of. And that’s what I’ll be celebrating tonight.
I think it’s appropriate to close this post with the last high school essay I ever wrote. My English teacher showed us a thing online called “This I Believe,” started in the 1950’s, where random people—some famous, some not, some old, some young, etc.—post a short essay online about their beliefs. My last assignment in English was to write such an essay, and I think it ties in nicely here.
This I Believe
May 18, 2013
When I first started high school, I was pretty scared about making friends. After all, I’d come from a private school where my graduating class was thirty-two kids. Then I entered a school with a class of 464, and I didn’t know anyone. But, in my years at my high school, I’ve made some irreplaceable friends, both in my classes and outside of school. It’s my belief that friends are everything in life, and whatever accomplishments you make are chiefly because of them.
I might be talkative and outgoing now, but I wasn’t back when I turned fourteen. The person who really got me to talk and express myself more was a girl I met on the first day of high school in English class. She and I have become incredibly close since then, and I’m sure one significant reason for that is because I feel like I can say pretty much anything to her. She was the first person to really listen when I talked. Also, she happens to be my girlfriend now, which is amazing.
I know that finding your voice in high school doesn’t seem like a remarkable accomplishment, but to a teenager, believe me, it is. I made an amazing group of friends in high school, and their support is connected in some way to every achievement I’ve made.
Whether it’s encouraging me to do my Eagle Scout project or us studying together for finals, my friends have been there for almost everything. My point so far, I guess, is that my friends helped me get through the major chunks of high school. And the fact that I got through those is one of my most notable accomplishments to date.
My proudest one, though, is more directly connected to the help of friends, which is why I saved it for last. Anyone who knows me—most likely, anyone reading this—knows that my favorite thing in the world to do is write. I started working on a novel at the end of eighth grade. But, I didn’t have anything solid until I opened up a bit more socially, which I couldn’t have done without the girl I mentioned above. Then one of my close friends read it, told me how good it was, and edited it into oblivion. She helped me destroy my adverbs, which I’ll never forget. And a third friend, who read the entire thing in one night, gave me something invaluable: a vote of confidence in it.
And my best friend helped me turn the draft into an actual manuscript, with a tangible story line and polished characters. He made several suggestions that skyrocketed the plot, and his friend helped me polish my query letter for it. Together, the three of us went through the final manuscript line by line out loud. [Finally, my Ideal Readers revealed]
I haven’t lived that long, but I’d like to think I’ve accomplished a few noteworthy things. I’ve survived high school, earned my Eagle Scout award, made highest honors, met a lot of amazing people, finished a book, and had the time of my life while doing all of those. My friends are the reason behind all of this, and even if I don’t owe them my life, I owe them everything I have worth living for.
I don’t know where I’ll go from here. Part of me hopes I’ll meet people in college who are even more incredible. But a much bigger part of me knows I won’t.
So yeah, I think that essay is about all I need to say before I leave high school. In the end, it’s not about how fast or slow time passes, or the good memories, or the fun dances, or the breathtaking moments, or the awesome parties, or the unforgettable school trips, or getting through tough classes or accomplishing everything you could have ever hoped for.
It’s about the people who make all of those possible. Family and friends, whether mentioned in the essay or not (because believe me, even if I didn’t mention you and you’ve helped me, I remember). It’s about the people who shape your life in the best way and who deserve all of thanks you could ever wish on them.
So thank you.