As the school year comes to a close, it always hits me that I won’t see the majority of our high school seniors ever again. I’ve made some really good relationships with some of these kids, but this is the end of the road. Many will go off to college, never to be heard from again.
Graduation is a rewarding part of my job, and it also presents a yearly reflection for me on transitions. This year I have the privilege of speaking at our Baccalaureate service, where I will hopefully leave our seniors with an inspiring message as they contemplate the culmination of their high school experience. And my message to them is all about transitions.
High school graduation is really the first big transition in one’s life. It’s a transition from adolescence to adulthood, from the security of mom and dad to the unknown of living apart. I remember being in the midst of that transition and feeling a great deal of uncertainty and fear, but at the same time, optimism and excitement.
I grew up in Los Angeles and attended the University of Texas, where I had only visited once before. I’ll never forget the lonely feeling when my dad left and I was all alone in my dorm room. Doubt crept in; had I made the right decision in moving so far away? Austin was about 5% the size of Los Angeles. It was a foreign place, and I instantly felt like a foreigner.
That first semester of school at UT was by far my worst academic semester of my career. I received my one and only “C” and struggled to pass Introduction to Chemistry, which wasn’t much more difficult than my high school chemistry class. When looking back, it’s not that I wasn’t academically prepared, but I wasn’t prepared emotionally for that big transition. Adapting to a new place with new social norms, responsibilities, and freedom took a toll on me emotionally, academically, and even spiritually.
I wanted to move back home badly. But I knew this wasn’t an option. I had made a commitment as part of the UT Swimming and Diving team, and I planned on honoring that commitment. The end of my freshman year our team won the NCAA Championships, and I started feeling more a part of something. Gradually my homesickness faded, and I genuinely liked living in Austin. While it still wasn’t “home,” I was making my life-long friends, exploring my future career goals, and turning into an adult.
Fast forward 24 years, and I’m still here in Austin, working at a high school to help students prepare for and transition to college. Those fears and doubts I had as a high school senior and college freshman are the exact same fears I see in our graduates. Many will leave Austin for places like Georgia, Auburn, Oklahoma, USC, and other out-of-state schools. I have seen them wrestle with these decisions and hope and pray they made the right ones.
I can also empathize because I’m in the middle of my very own transition. Next school year I will serve as the middle school principal. It’s an exciting time but one full of uncertainty.
There’s no predicting the future, but I can guarantee our students that they are prepared for whatever lies ahead. Yes transitions can be scary and discouraging. But they are also a great opportunity for growth, new friendships, and success. When we prepare ourselves well, as our students have, we are set up for successful transitions. I encourage our students to stay optimistic, trust what they’ve learned, and work hard for the things they want. If they do, good things will come.
Your child may be in the midst of his or her own transition: from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, or from high school to college. Remember that you have prepared them well. A healthy amount of anxiety is normal (and even beneficial) during these times. They will overcome their fears though. Stay positive, be encouraging, and give them all the support they need to flourish in their new environments.
Being a parent is a hard job; I know, I have a 3 year old. But the best part is seeing our kids transition successfully and turn into mature, caring, and productive young men and women. Just know that you have played a huge part in that transition. So give yourself a pat on the back; you are doing a great job!