When I was in high school, we were told to choose a saying that we hoped would guide us into our next chapter of life, after leaving those big metal doors behind.
The idea seems rather nonsensical now, choosing one blanket group of different words to guide you through a time in your life where you have no real frame of reference of what to expect - other than what you’ve seen others experience. Nonetheless, we all chose one and it was printed directly beneath our final photo in that year’s edition of the yearbook.
Senior Quotes aren’t an unfamiliar concept, but they are something that cross your mind when it’s been ten years since you’ve chosen one and your reunion is just around the corner.
My years following the end of high school were not particularly kind. My father only passed away a handful of months later, making an already difficult transition of life at that age only that much more traumatic. To this day, it was one of the most difficult times of my life, most especially because I wasn’t equipped to handle any of it emotionally (no one is) and the team that I turned to for guidance when experiencing difficult seasons was missing one half of themselves.
For the immediate years following, I was particularly hard on myself for feeling anything less than fine.
I was unkind when I spoke to myself, and I constantly told myself over and over that I needed to be strong enough for two people. I had made the choice to continue living at school, since commuting would have been a nightmare with the time commitments of a fine arts degree. I carried guilt about pursuing that degree at all, now living in a single income-household where my Mom was angrily living alone, grieving without me - and hating it.
It’s no foreign concept to think about going back to high school, the things you’d do differently, people you’d be kinder to, etc. Adulthood is a specific kind of hindsight, but knowing what you know now about things you would experience, what would you tell yourself then to guide you more gracefully through the next for years?
I carried so much with me everyday to class, to rehearsals, to concerts, to parties. to work, etc. The weight of what I was carrying was embedded so deeply inside of me that I didn’t know I was carrying them - I carried them subconsciously thinking that I was fine.
The truth is this… If I could go back to my eighteen year-old self and tell her one thing, it would be to be unafraid to not be okay. To find a therapist, to push passed the “strong” Irish instincts of working through every bit of it yourself, and to do the work with a professional. I would tell her that all of the guilt on her shoulders was something that wouldn’t be there forever, that feeling all of those feelings and being vulnerable and imperfect will actually help you make friends in a new environment, and that the nights spent silently crying without understanding why you couldn’t stop made you strong, not weak.
.On June 25, it will have been ten years since I graduated from high school. Those memories are flooded with endless after school play rehearsals, the occasional Ugg boot, and too much bronzer (seriously, it was cringe-worthy). They are also flooded with wonderful times that I had with my Dad laughing in the kitchen or in the car, catching him dancing in the hallway of our home, or eating dinner as a family, the three of us.