Dear 2021 High School Graduates,
First and foremost, I would like to applaud you for almost making it through this extraordinary year. This pandemic has inflicted countless challenges upon us; the fact that you have completed your post-secondary applications in the circumstances like these is an accomplishment on its own.
A few days ago, a friend of mine from my old high school received an offer from her dream university. Upon receiving her admissions letter, she reached out to me and asked if there were any advice I would give to an underclassman. Having completed most of my first year at university, I thought I would share what I had told my friend with a bigger audience.
I thought hard about what I should say to you today. I reflected upon my graduation and what I wish I had known a year ago today. I came up with the following answers:
University is not meant to scare you off. I know it is easy to be overwhelmed by fear when teachers, family, and alumni around us stress how difficult it is to survive university. In many ways, they are not wrong; however, the reason they are telling you so is not so that you would be physically scared at the idea of attending university. So, take your studies seriously and try your best, but not so seriously that you end up hating the experience. Additionally, when you are under stress in the next couple of years, which I am sure many of you will be at some point during your university education, I hope you will bear in mind that many people come out of university alive and well. It is not an uncommon thing to earn a university degree nowadays–if most people can do it, you can do it too.
Secondly, while it is important to be prepared, it is equally important to be ready to encounter surprises. If this pandemic has taught us anything, sometimes there are things we just cannot be fully prepared for. When I was in high school, many graduates who came back to visit evaluated the value of high school courses based on the number of parallels that could be drawn between them and university lectures.
Many considered those that contained university-level content valuable because when they encountered the same content in university, the familiarity with the content they had already built-in high school saved them from academic distress. While they do have a point in saying that familiarizing oneself with the content earlier on saves time, I would like to extol the value of classes in which you do not get a full picture of the level of workload at university.
Life is not about being able to predict everything. Most of the time, we gain invaluable experience in situations we unanticipated to find ourselves in. Learn to value the classes that leave potential for unexpected challenges to come up in your studies. I am not going to say that dealing with these surprises is fun, but learning to cope with these surprises is a powerful asset that will inoculate you against vicissitudes life will inflict upon you, both in university and beyond.
Lastly, the friends I made in high school have been friends until now. They have been people I have been able to turn to in times of trouble, so today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. Hold on to people who cherish you and whom you can count on.
Your friend, your upperclassman, your older self