What I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self on Graduation Day

I remember how I felt on my high school graduation day, ten years ago. I stood before my 300 classmates as their class president delivering a speech about embracing the next chapter of their lives. I stood before some of my classmates that I’ve known since I was nine-years-old, but at that moment they felt like strangers. It was bittersweet. I was nervous, relieved and ready for that next chapter, but I walked across that stage with bitter wounds.

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They say time heals all wounds and it did, but I think time just put bandages on my wounds because when I began the process of planning the 10-year reunion, the feelings I felt on graduation day in the days leading up to it came flooding back. I felt like that 18-year-old girl, just wanting to be appreciated and validated because, at that age, those 300 people were all I knew. Kenwood High School was my entire world and Clarksville was home. I didn’t know what was in store for me, but knowing what I know now, this is what I would have told that young woman who was about to embark on a great adventure of self-discovery and self-love:

Choose Yourself
 After you leave for college will be the very first time you get to have choices. You get to pick your classes, your dorm and what you eat for lunch or dinner. You get to choose yourself without the influence of your parents or your past. You will be on a ride of self discovery, but you have to remember to always choose you. You spent too many days, too many hours and two minutes putting yourself last and putting people before yourself. You missed the house parties, friend gatherings, and good ol’ teenage fun because you cared too much about your community and your classmates. Your well of good spirits and positivity is drained dry, but who will pour back into you. Being responsible, reliable, dependable and trustworthy are great traits to have, but don’t let people use you to the point where you lose sight of what makes you, you. It’s okay to say no in order to take care of yourself.

It’s Okay to Be a Unicorn
 Your old soul will be appreciated one day, but until then embrace your differences. Your uniqueness will be rewarded, appreciated and celebrated by the right type of people, in the right environment and at the right time. It may be uncool to get good grades, but your intellect and work ethic will get you far. It may be whack to spell out words in text messages and to enunciate a word in its entirety, but those habits will make you a better writer and a better public speaker. Don’t sell yourself short to fit in, you won’t be misunderstood for too long. You’ll learn later in life that the people who go the distance are those special unicorns.

Youth is Fleeting Enjoy Every Moment
 At times you’ll feel like an old lady only because you act responsibly. However, the joys of being young give you the excuse to test the waters and explore who you are outside of your comfort zone. So loosen up and live a little. Be smart, be in the moment and be young.

Your Hometown is a Gem
 You can’t wait to chuck up the deuces to this town, but you’ll later learn to appreciate Clarksville. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and while you’ll away you’ll appreciate the simple life you once knew. As complicated and expensive your lifestyle will become, you will enjoy winding down in your hometown. You’ll live for the nights where you can see the stars in the sky or hear the crickets chirp at night. The place you ran away from will now be your safe haven. When life beats you up you can return to your home recharge and be reminded of how far you have come.

You Don’t Need a Crown to Be a Queen
 You ran for homecoming queen and you lost. (Long story that deserves it’s own show). You wanted it so bad and when you didn’t get it you felt like the school turn it’s back on you, and it’s simply not true. You were always known for your book smarts and your fashionable style, but for once you wanted to be celebrated for all you had contributed to your school and your city. You felt the only way that would happen is if you had a crown upon your head and when you didn’t win top prize you felt betrayed and used. You saw it as a contest of merit, but it was simply a popularity vote. You didn’t have the student body’s favor but your impact was much deeper. But baby girl, you never needed the crown. You were a queen when you were born. It took time but eventually, you’ll look in the mirror and see the crown that everyone else saw the entire time. Your impact was great and sometimes you have to trust that you did your part and that you did your best.

Forgiveness Is Everything
 When you walked off the graduation stage, you pledge to yourself that you wouldn’t speak to certain people ever again. Friendships were broken and you didn’t care because you had a new beginning that awaited you at college with an opportunity to do things differently. Little did you know Facebook would link you with your past forever, but it also became the tool that will open up a door of to discover who people were later in life, to watch them become men and women with their own families and to open yourself up to friendship once again. You mended and healed through forgiveness and that’s the best thing you will do for yourself. Forgiveness makes returning to your hometown a little sweeter each time.

Stop Looking for Validation, You are Enough
 Up until you final duty as a high school student, folks hated on you until your very last day as a resident of Clarksville. You did everything right but it still seemed like it wasn’t good enough. All you wanted was validation for the group of people you grew up with. You just wanted to finally hear them say, “Hey girl! You did that!” You never got it or at least you never got it from the people you wanted to hear it from. Stop looking for validation in the wrong places. You learn as you attempt to plan your ten-year reunion that years can go by and people will not have changed. You will have traveled the country and done some amazing things, but you will still allow your high school classmates to make you feel small. Stop looking for validation from them, because you are enough.

My 18-year-old self was feeling a shift. That shift when life is preparing you for something great, prepping you for the unknown and building the character and tough skin that you would need to take on the journey called life. I was entering womanhood and ironically ten years later I’m experiencing that same emotion where life starts moving, maneuvering and shifting people and situations in your life for a new season in life. I’ve learned a lot about myself in ten years and I’ve grown tremendously and I look forward to what the next ten years have in store.

Originally published at Brittney Oliver.