The time is short now. Your cap and gown have been hanging in the closet for weeks. Your announcements have been sent, and today you finished your final exams. High school is almost over. Even though 18 years is a lifetime for you, for me it has been a vapor. Suddenly I’m scrambling to think of last minutes lessons I might have forgotten or words of wisdom I’ve failed to impart. There’s still time, right? But the thing is, I’m blank. We are proud of you and we love you. I’m not sure what else to say. So maybe I’ll skip the last minute advice – except (you knew it was coming) to say that there will be some well-meaning friends, relatives, teachers, and greeting cards offering you words of wisdom traditionally given to the young as they set out into the world. I’m asking you to ignore these.
DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
This sounds good. Who doesn’t want to be happy? The thing is (my apologies to our founding fathers) pursuing happiness rarely makes you happy – at least not for long. Happiness isn’t a bad thing, but it should be a byproduct of a life well-lived, not the goal of life. Making happiness your goal is intrinsically selfish. Pursue goodness. Pursue peace. Pursue holiness. These are higher goals and the only way to be truly happy.
JUST BE YOURSELF
I’ve found this to be bad advice for me. This isn’t to say I don’t like myself. I’m actually quite fond of me. I try to be a good person. But I know myself well enough to know that at my core, I am selfish. I tend to stew. I can be a little scatter-brained. And I sometimes dominate conversations. That’s me. In a lot of situations, I have to reign myself in. I see a lot of people, especially young people, shrug off glaring faults and bad behavior by declaring proudly, “That’s just who I am.” That’s a cop out. Don’t just be yourself. Be your best self. I love you all the time, but your best self is easier to take.
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
What does that even mean? The Bible tells us“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”. Ouch. But the truth is, following your heart or your gut or your feelings is far more likely to lead you down the wrong path than following your head or better yet, your conscience. Feelings change, but you can’t go wrong with good sense and good morals.
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING AS LONG AS YOU BELIEVE
Ummmmmm. No. You can’t. That is also horrible advice. You can do anything within reason as long as you believe – and work hard and the timing is right and as long as other factors (other people, your health, the global economy, the weather, etc.) do not stand in your way. I hate to break it to you, but you will probably never be an Olympic swimmer. Nor will you be the king of a small island nation. And really, I wouldn’t hold your breath about winning the lottery. But I think you have an amazing future ahead of you. Believe you can and will work hard in school and in your future career and that you will be a success. Believe you can find a wonderful, Godly wife someday and make a life together. Believe in living a life of service. Believe in God’s mercy. This is not to say you should not set goals. But remember that life is not about reaching some far off goal just to prove you can. The best success is a life lived in love and devotion to God others. Believe in that.
LIVE FOR THE MOMENT
Don’t fret. Don’t worry. But by all means think beyond the moment. Because when the fun of the moment is over, you are stuck with the consequences.
TAKE THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
Okay, maybe sometimes. But sometimes the road is well traveled because it is the best road, especially when it comes to our faith. Enter through the narrow gate, but you don’t necessarily have to blaze a trail. The Church is full of saints and scholars who have blazed that trail for you. Stay on it.
Okay, so while I was writing this I did think of some last minute words of advice: Always be kind. Say your prayers. Call your mother. I love you.
The original version of this post was published last year. Now my son has completed his first year of college. So far so good. To all you mammas saying good bye to your teenager this year, hang in there. Young adulthood is a fun new chapter.