I love graduations. Late May and early June never fail to bring back feelings of nostalgia and hope. Since school has been such an integral part of my life, I view this time of year with more significance than New Year's. It marks the next step, the next age.
In early elementary school, age was an amusing part of our lives displayed with our fingers. And birthday parties were the foundation of our social lives.
When I got a little older, grade level was hugely significant. The first thing we asked when meeting someone was, "What grade are you in?"
As a second- and third-grader, I remember being intimidated by sixth-graders. I could not imagine what it would be like to be grown up like a sixth-grader. In fourth grade, I remember counting the rest of the years that I would be in school -- eight years, not including college. I saw my life halting at college. It seemed like an eternity away.
My middle-school years were a roller coaster. I had a wonderful group of friends. I was successful in school, which gave me recognition among my peers and teachers. But I was worried all the time.
Now, I can look back and laugh that everything seemed so serious and important. I was so concerned with how popular I was and where I placed among my peers. I had no concept that life would move on, that everything would change.
High school was hectic; it happened so quickly. One day it was the first day of ninth grade, I was switching classes and keeping track of a complicated class schedule, and the next day I was graduating. I was extremely busy throughout high school, and I had many wonderful experiences, but four years definitely seemed more like two.
One of the major lessons I learned in high school was to recognize and accept change. I saw inseparable groups of friends develop new interests and befriend other people. Serious couples, whose futures together seemed inevitable, would break up and date others. Kids that other students would pick on developed into star athletes or scholars that everyone revered. Popular students, who seemed to have it made in ninth grade, struggled and dropped out.
In the structured school environment, where almost every minute is planned, change was scary. Change indicated lack of control, and I felt like every change should be acknowledged and dwelled upon. But people moved on from changes as quickly as they happened, which caused high school to go by so fast.
When graduation approached, I felt a strong sense of sadness that my youth was behind me. I experienced the same feelings as middle school: "Why had I not been more carefree?"
High school graduation is only the beginning. It is almost like a rebirth. The age of structure and control is over, and the door opens to a new life of independence and choice.
As my college life began, I saw change as wonderful, and it usually manifested itself in the form of decision. I could study anything I wanted, do anything I wanted, go anywhere I wanted.
Now at age 24, I am two years removed from the glory of college and again facing the same fear of the future I have experienced in other stages of my life.
I have plans for my life but no true sense of what could happen in the future. At the same time, there is the fear that my future might become mundane and meaningless as I take on more obligations.
Looking back, if I could tell high school graduates one thing, it would be to embrace the newness and discovery of the future. Life does not stop at milestones.
Sometimes, I need to give myself the same advice.
Email Corin Harpe at email@example.com.