Arabella Peterson - 'Four things I wish someone had told me when I was graduating high school'
‘Four things I wish someone had told me when I was graduating high school’ #OHGinsight
When I was in my final year of school, the outside world seemed like a distant and surreal place. There’s no bell to tell me when to eat? I don’t have to ask permission to go to the bathroom? I can choose not to wear a tie and ankle-length kilt every day? The prospect of this freedom was simultaneously exciting and totally bewildering. Navigating the social pressures of being a teenage girl teamed with the intensity of final exams was a recipe for anxiety, and it certainly felt like these things were the be all and end all. But looking back now at the ripe old age of 24, seven years since graduating – there are certain things I really wish someone had told me before entering the ‘real world’.
You get to decide who you remain friends with
High school is kind of a bizarre place; hundreds of adolescents jammed into one institution and forced to sort themselves into hierarchical peer groups, vying against each other academically and socially. It’s a time in your life where you can forge intense and meaningful friendships, but also a time where you can fall into contrived relationships, grounded in not much more than convenience. If you had friends in high school that didn’t make you feel good about yourself, know that you’re under no obligation to stay friends after you graduate. I’m not saying you should inexplicably cut ties or hurt anyone’s feelings; but if there’s nothing genuine binding you together, sometimes it’s better for your sense of self to allow some distance. You’ll likely drift in and out of friendships that are important for a period of time in your life, but as circumstances change, people often change too— and this can be healthy. Finding a balance of sentimentality and self-worth can be the key in choosing and maintaining deep relationships.
2. You're entitled to a fresh start
I don't know about anyone else, but I think I made enough mistakes in high school to last a lifetime. From harmless faux pas’ like bleaching the life out of my hair to more dishonest slip-ups like standing by while my friend shoplifted jeggings, to actually entering some downright dangerous situations—decision-making wasn’t my teen self’s forte. I would hate to be remembered for my juvenile blunders, and taking people on face value as well as giving them the benefit of the doubt in the subsequent years after high school is only fair, and pretty liberating. I don’t think teenagers should be taken less seriously or infantilised by any means, but we can’t forget that we are literally children for most of our time in high school, and our childhood mistakes don’t define us.
3. Life after school is not a race to success
Back in the day people would graduate, lose touch with most of their cohort, then come back for their 10 year reunion in their most expensive dress with tales of their prosperous and picturesque post-school life. It’s natural to want to feel a bit impressive sometimes, and unfortunately weighing yourself up against other people is an ingrained and pervasive reaction. But social media has facilitated our ability to peruse (stalk, basically) the lives of other people and comparison has been made exceptionally easy. These days, you’re probably Facebook friends with most of the people you went to school with or have some kind of online contact with your old classmates. Some people will do a 6 year medicine degree, some will travel the world, some will work casual jobs, some will get married and others will have children. There’s no one-size-fits-all mould of success or ‘correct’ path after graduating; and trust me, it’s much more fulfilling to measure achievement on a personal scale.
4. If you didn’t fit in at school, I promise there’s a place for you in the ‘real world’
The world has 7.4 billion people, most year groups have about 150. If you didn’t ‘fit in’, or you didn’t form very strong connections with anyone in your high school years, you’re not ‘weird’ – and you’re definitely not alone. Whether your interests and opinions don’t align with that of your peers, or you’re trapped in an environment charged with toxic masculinity or competitiveness. Whether you’re exploring your sexuality or gender identity or you just don’t feel good enough, displacement is an awful feeling. But one of the most exciting things about graduating is the prospect of meeting more likeminded people that you’re compatible with. Any interest, hobby or quirk that has lead you to feel left out more than likely has a community outside the realm of your specific high school. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, I promise you – if you look, there’s always somewhere that you’ll belong.
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