On June 7 I graduated from high school, and everyone talked about what a big deal it was. And, we held parties to celebrate what a big deal it was. And, judging by the number of Blue Spoon and Starbucks gift cards I got, it seemed pretty clear to everyone what a big deal it was.
So, after a year — scratch that, four years — scratch that, 13 years of buildup — and after all of this talk and celebration, I was starting to think that, just maybe, it was a pretty big deal.
Because after you spend years in the public school system, doing whatever it is you do, be it sports or band or (ahem) the school newspaper, you start to identify the qualities of a mature adult in the people around you.
And after you spend senior year preparing to become an adult — no longer a student or a minor or whatever lame other thing you were before, but a real-life adult — you start to think that the morning after graduation you will become one, just like that. It’s as though by wearing some ill-fitting purple robes and sitting almost still for three hours you have performed the magic ritual and will awaken in the morning transformed.
You’ll do adult things, like magically wake up on time every morning and never be late for class — I mean, work. And you’ll do things like become more responsible and not drink your body’s weight in Slushies and stay up until 2 a.m. on school — I mean, work nights. Also, you won’t procrastinate, you’ll exercise more, and you’ll suddenly be able to cook well.
Except that’s not how it works at all.
Despite what everyone will say, or at least imply, you are not wrapped in the cocoon of adolescence waiting to spread your wings of maturity. The only difference between the week before graduation and the week after is that after graduation you have time to learn how to do things like wake up on time and cook well before work or — hey, get this — school starts again.
After I recovered from the initial disappointment of post-high school life I thought of something even more disappointing: This is probably how everything is.
Getting your first job, moving away, turning 21, getting married, buying your first house, and whatever else adults do, it’s all made out to be incredibly transformative. And sure, it probably is, or at least it could be. But it doesn’t compensate for all the things you aren’t doing to make it transformative. After graduating and then getting my first job and then learning to ride a bike — yes, really — I kept waiting for that moment when I suddenly became that person I always envisioned. You know, the healthier, happier, more successful Holly that I was supposed to become. Just jumping through the right hoops or living to a certain age didn’t do the trick. It was the smaller things that no one seems too impressed by that made the difference. Doing my own laundry, feeding myself, waking up to catch the bus to work, the little things that no one throws parties about were the actual things pushing me towards success, and, probably more importantly, keeping me alive and functional.
So maybe it’s not the graduation itself we were all celebrating. It wasn’t the big, purple ceremony that was the big deal. It was the fact that now, as an “adult,” I had this obligation to take initiative. And so did everyone else in my class. Suddenly, we were pushed forward by the fact that the next morning we didn’t wake up transformed. Suddenly, learning to do all those little things that make us functional, healthy human beings became a pretty big deal.
Holly Thorpe is a Wenatchee World intern and recently graduated features editor of Wenatchee High School’s award-winning student newspaper, The Apple Leaf. Her 2011 story on the drowning of classmate Antonio Reyes was named national Story of the Year by the National Scholastic Press Association.