Someone who shares my age and hometown reminded me today that this weekend marks the 10-year anniversary of my high school graduation. She wrote a letter to herself just before graduating and recently opened it to read advice and wishes for the future self she now embodies. I didn't do that in 2007, but I found myself wishing I had. While I didn't identify much with the high school scene and opted for accelerated programs that got me off school property, I wholeheartedly identify with the young women I've been for the past 10 years. So in tribute to a decade of immense growth, and in the interest of feeding any souls out there who have forgotten just how far they've come, here is a letter I wrote today to my graduating self-- because it's never too late.
To the girl in the graduation gown,
Today you're going to hear a speech from your class valedictorian as you stand among your friends in a sea of emerald polyester. You'll be given advice from your parents, your friends' parents, your former teachers, and anyone else who wants to impart their wisdom onto you before you start making too many decisions on your own. Not because you aren't more or less capable of making decisions than any adult-- it's a myth that adults have all the answers as you will soon find out in becoming one yourself-- but because they know how it feels to be on the cusp of something new, and it makes them both excited and afraid for you. You feel butterflies because you'll be walking on a stage in front of your peers (and does your hair look okay and what if your hat falls off?), but you've been sheltered just enough in your life thus far that you don't feel any true sense of heightened stakes like the adults around you do. At least not yet.
I'm going to tell you now that you will not remember any of the advice you hear today, but you will remember your dad calling you downstairs to leave (because how long does it take to straighten your hair and we're going to be late and the car's leaving in 3 minutes so you better be in there, Laura). You'll also remember that precious summer of in-between. In the dark of a bedroom sleepover you and two of your best friends will talk about the college you're all going to, looking at a map of the campus like it's the map of a foreign country. They'll want to promise friends forever but somehow inside you'll know that you were always meant to wander this earth, far from the place you grew up in. And it'll make you comfortable to know yourself in that moment, but it will also made you sick inside to feel so different.
If I were to impart any words upon you on this graduation day, even knowing they will dissipate among the teenage adrenaline and hat tosses and sugar rushes of late night trips to get milkshakes, it would be to walk with boldness. To take more wrong turns on purpose. To break the rules every once in awhile to realize that adults, systems, and the opinions of others don't hold the nebulous power over you that you think they do. If I could tell you anything, I would tell you to say "dare" when you could say "truth". There is a greater unknown in saying dare, with heightened stakes, but you'll learn more about yourself in that moment of response than you ever could by telling the truth over and over. Because we all know you feel too guilty to tell lies so the truth is all you've got.
I wish I could show you who you are now, because I think it would put you at ease. You have grown to know it's crucial to surround yourself with people who challenge you in healthy ways, inspire you to try new things, and are supportive of your endeavors. You're still a rule follower, but one of your proudest moments of daring is when you jumped into the fountain at the center of campus the night of your college graduation. The other is when you learned to travel by yourself, though it still gives you butterflies every time you venture off completely on your own. The best things in life do.
You will continue to search out those moments you can say "dare" your whole life, and it's a lot more challenging as an adult to know when you're coming upon one. Life doesn't provide advanced notice and it rarely gives you an obvious second option. But a daring existence takes practice. So when you get invited in your young life to take truth or dare, let the oxygen in your lungs and the pounding heart in your chest remind you that you're practicing what it means to live when you respond with “dare”. I'll thank you later.
top photo by Shane Eubank