Graduating Into Happiness

Today I went back to my old high school for my niece Taylor’s graduation. It has been 35 years since my own graduation day.  I know!  I can’t believe it either!  I am much too young for that to be the case. 

I loved high school.  I had great friends, I liked most of my teachers (I was friends with some, had adversarial relationships with some, and others I just endured), and I liked learning.  While I know there were times of teenaged angst, most of my memories were great ones.  I remember a lot of laughter.  I remember a lot of good times.  I remember feeling accepted (at least by the people I wanted to be accepted by!) and feeling like I was a part of things.  Imagine my surprise when I found out that all of my friends didn’t feel the same way at all!

I didn’t learn this until my 10th reunion.  It seemed most of the people I had conversations with talked about what a horrible time of life that was and how they would never go back.  Even some of those people who were my closest friends.  By the end of the evening I wondered if I was the only one who had fun.  My best friend from 4th grade through high school, Carole Kunkle Page, wasn’t at that particular reunion so afterwards I called her and asked “Did you like high school?”  She responded “Of course I did!  We had so much fun!  Remember the time…” and then she proceeded to recall some of our favorite high school memories.  At a pause in the conversation I said “Guess what?  We were the only ones having fun!”  Yes, we laughed.  We may have been living in a bubble of naiveté, but even then we knew that it wasn’t a bad place to be.  There were plenty of things we could have worried about during those years, but I think we made a choice for things to be good and simply ignored the things that cause most teens struggle.

We often scorn naiveté in this life, but I think perhaps it is the secret of happiness (be it authentic or selective.)  Think someone is talking about you?  If you choose to assume “No, of course they are not!”, it can negate a lot of worry.  Because really, does it matter?  What’s that Dr. Seuss quote I love so much?  “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind?” (I have actually heard this is not a Dr. Seuss quote….but I will choose to ignore that for now!)

Think someone doesn’t respect you the way you deserve?  When you’re not thinking about them and your focus is on respecting yourself, you find it is something you can do something about.

Think that the cool kids are having way more fun than you are?  When you think you are the cool kids, you sort of feel sorry for all of the rest of them that aren’t getting to do all of the cool things that you are doing.  (LOL….like blogging on a Saturday night!)

Think there is some drug or some drink that is going to give you superpowers and make you cool, suave and in control?  Hmmmmm…..take a look around at those who are trying to make it happen.  Fail!  You are quite cool, suave and in control all on your own.  I promise.  And if you aren’t….“those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

I love teenagers.  I love college students.  I am fortunate to spend a lot of time with both.  I’m also fortunate that many are quite honest with me, about what they think, who they are, what they believe, what they do, and what they don’t do.  I see myself in almost all of them.  Not much has changed really….in them or in me.  Often they are my biggest inspirations because they have a passion and an enthusiasm for life that is contagious.  And then there are the ones who don’t….they usually are quite sad and troubled.

I had an intense side at that age.  I had a side that was insecure and felt like I didn’t quite measure up.  I often felt unattractive, fat, gawky, and awkward.  I was smart, but always had the fear that I couldn’t be smart enough….or I felt that I was a nerd and “normal” kids didn’t think about the stuff that I thought about. Other times I did feel smart.  I felt that I was special.  I felt loved and cared for and knew that I had friends (and family and teachers) who supported me.  I felt fortunate to be me….and proud to be me.  I was crazy passionate about everything…..good, bad, or indifferent.  It all seemed to matter so much.  I volunteered, I participated, I lived high school life. 

The truth is, that girl is still here underneath.  The girl who walked across the stage and picked up that diploma hasn’t changed much at all.  She still is a mixture of all kinds of good things and bad.  But when it gets down to it, I still choose to be naivé.  I still choose to think people are basically good (even though they can make big mistakes.)  I want to be someone who sees people succeed when they get a second chance (or a 10th.)  I still choose to try to ignore the angst and hope it goes away.  (Often it does.)  I still have teachers (be they bosses, politicians, friends or family) who I am friends with, who I am adversaries with, and who I simply endure.  They have their place….the good impact my life, the bad I choose to ignore.  I still love to learn.  Ultimately, I still choose to find the fun.  Why spend the bulk of your life in misery?

I am beginning to see a lot of friends die.  It used to be a rare occurrence, but it happens way too often now.  Sometimes as I reflect on those we have lost, I surmise that someone not only didn’t have fun in life, they didn’t really fulfill much purpose on this earth.  I find that to be tragic.  I think it is a betrayal of our creation. Not that I think we have to live lives of high intensity at every moment….personally I can’t handle that and I don’t think that is God’s plan for most of us.  But to live a life by thoughtful design, a life we are proud of, a life that celebrates our gifts and our interests and our loves and our God.  That to me is our goal.  

The graduates that walked that stage this morning are at an exciting time of their life.  They are designing their days.  But you know something?  So are you!  While you may choose to be selectively naivé to enhance your own enjoyment of things, don’t be naivé about life.  Live it purposefully, proudly and as if it will end tomorrow.  It really could.  Was the person you were today the one you want remembered?  If not it’s time to move that tassle to the other side and graduate.  Tomorrow has a lot of opportunity just waiting for my niece Taylor, my goddaughter Shannon, my friends Amanda, Avery, Bethany, and Ciara…and for you!

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