Go forth, graduates, and explore the world

Published 3:00 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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Graduation season has arrived.

Universities have already started marching graduates across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas, and high schools will follow suit in the coming weeks.

I have plenty of memories of my own graduation experiences. First, my high school graduation from Ridgecroft as my classmates and I graduated outdoors on a sweltering hot afternoon. (Many of us had spent the earlier part of the day celebrating in advance and sported some sunburned faces in our graduation photos from the ceremony.) I can no longer remember the words that were shared, but I do remember the emotions and the excitement of tossing my cap in the air afterwards.

Later, I received my college diploma at Elon University. That was another outdoor ceremony on a pretty warm day, though thankfully we were under the shade of an oak tree grove. Unlike my high school graduation which only had 25 students to contend with, Elon’s graduation included hundreds of students. I’m pretty sure I zoned out at some point and don’t remember many of the details, though I did keep a watchful eye out for my friends so I could cheer when they received their own diplomas.

The most memorable part of my university graduation, however, was that we received a little oak sapling as a memento of our accomplishment. (“Elon” means “oak” so that was clearly a big theme at the school.) Once the ceremony was complete and I said goodbye to my friends, I returned back home to Northampton County to plant that sapling in my parents’ backyard. It’s still thriving today… and now much taller than me!

Over the years, I’ve attended a few other graduations as a spectator to cheer on family and friends for their accomplishments. My brother’s three graduations (from Ridgecroft, NC State’s Ag Institute, and Chowan University) are a particular highlight in my mind. But my own experiences are the ones that are the most memorable to me. Each ceremony is different for every person, whether they were on the stage or in the audience.

But a graduation ceremony (from a school, training program, etc) is simply one moment in time. Being a “graduate,” however, is a title you’ve earned for the rest of your life, no matter what you do afterwards.

Though perhaps I’m not considered “old and wise” enough yet to share some advice to fellow graduates, I figure there are some suggestions and ideas I can still offer up anyway. These are some things I wish I’d known ahead of time (or, at least, paid attention to when my elders were offering me advice…)

For high school graduates, no matter if you’re heading to college or into the workforce, don’t be afraid to speak up. Not everyone is as shy and quiet as I was during my younger years, but it can still be daunting to try to make your voice heard when you venture out into “the real world” for the first time as a teenager. So if you need help, don’t be afraid to talk to your professors or talk to your supervisors or talk to a mentor in your life that can share some guidance.

Experience as many new things as possible. Sign up for clubs and join some groups! The time after you finish high school is one of the best times to explore new hobbies and meet new people. You can learn a lot about the world that way while also having fun. You might even broaden your perspectives on things in the process.

For college graduates, make plans and then make more plans. Once you have your degree in hand, you may have an idea of what your future will look like in theory. But in practice, things don’t always shape up to what you’re expecting. So make some backup plans, contingency plans, and even just “fun” plans as options to see where life takes you after you’ve turned the tassel. Sometimes things are a bit less stressful to deal with if you have some semblance of a plan ahead of time.

And, lastly, for any kind of graduate: be flexible! While some teens know for sure the kind of career they want to pursue by the time they hit middle school, for most people, those decisions are tough to make and can feel overwhelming. That means that some people end up pursuing careers they’re not sure they want to stick with.

In my personal opinion, I think it’s 100 percent okay to change your major or change your career if you feel like it’s necessary. I know plenty of people who started off studying one thing and then switched gears later to pursue something else that made them happier. Even I changed my mind over the years! (Journalism was NOT my major at Elon University, but I decided to take a leap of faith when I started working for this newspaper. Though I didn’t have formal journalism training, I took the other writing skills I’d learned from my education and found ways to utilize them here. It also helps that I have a great mentor, Cal Bryant, to guide me too!)

Graduation can be a time of intense emotions, ranging from joy for your success to fear of the unknown future. But it’s something everyone experiences in their lifetime. So to the new graduates this year: you’re not alone. Life’s going to be rough sometimes, but you’ll make it through. The rest of us graduates are here to help!

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.