I registered my eighth child at the high school of my youth today. A familiar smell which brought me back to being a 15-year-old faintly and suddenly filled my nostrils as I opened the same heavy doors that were opened in the fall of 1977 when I entered as a freshman. I passed the area that was the bookstore, where my mom and I had stood to get my algebra, English and other books so many years ago, and where today I stood with my young daughter. She had the same wide-eyed look on her face that I must have had more than three decades ago.
As I entered the guidance office, I noticed the same cinder brick walls, the same funky colored doors that were there when I was as a student. A flood of memories filled my mind—memories of being 15, 16, 17, and barely turning 18 before I graduated. I thought of the people I knew then, the feelings I had. I was nervous, excited, shy, and hopeful. During my four years at this school, I made friends, studied hard and sometimes, admittedly, not so hard. This school was a place where I made mistakes, and learned some lessons about life, God and simply myself. It would be at least a decade after graduating before I felt I really came into my own, but the beginning of my independence, real life learning and personal choice for God began here at this Catholic high school.
While I have visited this school many times over the years as seven other children began and (some by graduating) ended their journey through there, today was different. I was feeling a little nostalgic anyway and the tangible reminders of being young and naïve and a rush of nameless emotions swept me back to a time when I was the age of my daughter.
What would you say to your younger self if you could go back to high school? I thought about what I might say to my younger self, and it went something like this:
Try hard, but don’t worry. Please don’t worry so much. You’re not perfect. No one is. You’re going to make mistakes. Everyone does. Just do your best. And smile. Try to bring some joy and levity to those around you.
Don’t be so guarded. Take a chance, a few risks. Open your heart. And love. Love people! Say hello to the girl in the back who stands alone. Ask her if she’d like to join you at the lunch table and don’t worry what your friends may think. Don’t be afraid to talk to the boy who sits behind you in math or in front of you in study hall. He’s probably as nervous as you are. If you fight the shyness you could make a friend, maybe for life.
Try something you’ve never tried before, a club, a sport, something. Force yourself to sign up. I know you’re scared. Do it anyway. Challenge yourself in a class, in a subject you don’t particularly like. When you learn it you may like it…or love it. Embrace learning now and take the first step in truly making it your own. Your education is not for your teachers, your GPA or your transcripts alone. It is for yourself. It is for life.
Go to the Mass before or after school. Take advantage of Confession offered when it is. Grow in faith with your classmates. It is a gift to be surrounded by people with the same beliefs, especially in this world, which can be so cold and so secular.
Remember to be kind. Oh, the world needs more people to be kind! There will always be smart people, athletic people, popular people, but what the world really needs is more kind people.
Try to project yourself in the future and look back at the present, as past. What might you wish you had done? Do it.
Some day you might look back and wish you had done some thing, said some thing, hadn’t done some thing or hadn’t said some thing. So what? This is normal. This is life. You are the architect of your future. God has a plan for you, and these early years are all part of it. Embrace what is before you. Dive in! Relax.
At the time of high school, we are so young. We don’t know yet who will be touched with tragedy young, a disease, a death, some other sadness. Life happens with its times and trials and great winds that shake us to the core. I think of this when I walk through the door with my second youngest daughter, about to embark on high school:
Dream big, my little girl. Life can be hard and we can’t change the direction of the wind, but we can choose to adjust the sails, courageously embrace life to the fullest and to walk confidently with God.
It is time to begin, for all of us.
Even if we are way beyond the high school years.
“A humble soul does not trust itself, but places all its confidence in God” (St. Sister Faustina).