Monday, June 13, 2022

to our eighth graders

 There are parts of my remarks that I do sometimes reuse. This is what I said to Forest Grove today and will say to Burncoat Middle on Wednesday.

Because you’re entering ninth grade in the fall, when you have those conversations with adults this summer--you know the ones: “how old are you? you’re so tall! you look just like your mom/dad/grandfather/big brother? what grade are you in?”--you’re going to hear a lot of this sort of thing:

“oh, HIGH SCHOOL! The best years of your life!”

Please listen to what I am going to tell you now, because it is crucially important:

You should not listen to these people.

They do not know what they are talking about.

They’re now predicting that someone your age is going to live, on average, into their eighties. If, in eight decades of life, the years between 14 and 18 are the very best, you’ve screwed it up.

I submit to you that the next four years are actually about establishing a balance between two ideas: carpe diem and amitte diem

Carpe diem, you’re probably familiar with, particularly if your parents subjected you to Dead Poets' Society: seize the day! Go, get ‘em!  Take the chance! Go for it! 

For high school, that means things like:

  • take the harder class
  • try out for the school play, for the school sports, run for class officer
  • raise your hand on that answer
  • apply for the more difficult job 
  • go ask her name. Go ask her out! 
  • take the internship
  • spend more time outside

Reach a little, stretch a little, try something you aren’t sure you can do. Because you are only in high school once, and there are things you’ll get a chance at in these next four years that you may never have a shot at again.


(you knew there was a “however” coming...)

High school is also--let’s be frank--a chance to do a lot of really stupid things that can possibly mess up your life forever. 

Your big job over the next four years, then, is getting right the time to switch from carpe diem to amitte diem--from “seizing the day” to “letting the day slip by.”

A few tips:

  • If it involves sex, drugs, or alcohol, MAKE THOUGHTFUL CHOICES AND PLAN AHEAD. You’d be amazed at the ways you can mess up the rest of your life with these.
  • Doing stupid things at stupid hours : skip it.  It’s a great way to get the wrong sort of attention from law enforcement. You do not want that.
  • Telling off your mom, giving the smart answer to the teacher, taking what is going wrong in your life out on your younger sister: when you can possibly manage it, take a deep breath, and don’t do it. You’re going to have a lot of very understanding people around you for the next four years, but even they have only so much patience. 
  • Yes, of course you’re going to post things online. Nothing online is ever really private and nothing online disappears, so unless you’d say it in front of your English class AND you’re quite sure you’ll still be okay with it when you’re thirty: don’t go there.

If you can successfully navigate the space between when to go for it and when it skip it, you will create a high school career that not only is successful, but is the foundation for the best years of your life...

...which are, I am sure, still to come.

Congratulations, and best wishes for your continued success.

No comments: