For being such an important milestone in my life, there’s a lot that I don’t remember about my high school graduation.
I don’t remember how many beach balls my classmates and I craftily smuggled into the ceremony with the precision of the Navy SEALS. Of course, each of these was confiscated by one surly, frowny teacher, who then gleefully stabbed them with a ballpoint pen. I remember being uneasy at how much joy this seemed to give him, thinking this must be how Roger looked when he killed Piggy.
Then I remember thinking that my English teacher would have been proud that I just made a “Lord of the Flies” reference.
I don’t remember the name of the assistant principal who read my name as I crossed the stage. And I don’t remember the names of my two classmates who bravely sang an acoustic version of “These Are Days” by 10,000 Maniacs.
But I do remember this...
I remember feeling as though I had just snapped off the shackles of institutional control and was heading into a new world of freedom. I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do, especially adults. I’d just jumped through 13 years of hoops, thank you very much. Freedom!!! Now, I get to do as I please (insert evil laugh).
Of course, this resistance to any sort of guidance from adults was deeper than simple teenage rebellion. It sprang from personal deep hurt and distrust of adults.
I grew up as a foster kid, bouncing around from home to home. Needless to say, I had a hard time trusting people. I was hurt. I was abandoned. I was abused. I didn’t trust adults because it seemed like everyone I was supposed to trust had let me down.
As someone who now works with teens, I’ve had conversations with hundreds of teens and many feel something similar.
High school graduation is a time in your life when you are least likely to listen to adults. And frankly, you most need to.
I wanted to be independent so badly that I overcompensated and began to shut out the very people who could help me achieve said independence. Please don’t make the same mistake I did. I wrongly believed that adults were the problem. They’re not. The right adults are the answer.
Eventually, I discovered that caring adults really are worth trusting. I had a teacher named Ms. Sodowsky who saw, in my class clown routine, someone who wasn’t afraid of speaking in front of people. She paved the way for my speaking career. Eventually, I got a set of foster parents who showed me what unconditional love is. A program called Big Brothers/Big Sisters sent a mentor named Gary, who took time out of his life to provide a roadmap to what it means to be a responsible and healthy young man.
The moment I started hanging around adults I respected, I began to learn from them and my life began to change for the better. So. Will. Yours.
You are one caring adult away from being a success story.
I challenge you to:
1. Go find a caring adult you respect.
2. Talk to them about your life. Your goals. Ask them specifically, “How can I improve my life?”
3. Implement what they say, then wash and repeat monthly.
I don’t remember much about my high school graduation ceremony, but I do remember that the trajectory of my life drastically changed the minute I decided to start listening to caring adults who knew more than me.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go find your own “Ms. Sodowskys” and learn from them. You can either live with wisdom (gleaned from mentors) or with regret (gleaned from ego).
I’m telling you the first one is better (much like the “Star Trek” series).
See Josh Shipp's full graduation speech for the class of 2013 here: