A Letter of Advice to High School Graduates

Written by Matt Morris, PhD, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Picture This: Your hometown high school has invited you back to graduation. You’ve been asked to give that iconic annual keynote address to this sea of graduates.

What would you say to them? 

Or better yet, like me, you have a kid about to go off to college. 

What parting words would you like to impart to them?  What would be your message?

Go ahead, pause here, grab some paper, and jot down your thoughts.  Give yourself some time to craft your main ideas.  

What do they need to hear from you about who they are, what’s next, and where they are going?

I took a stab at this exercise.  Keep reading below if you want to know what I am saying to my kid.

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College is a transition period of life unlike any other. You’re going from my roof, to a temporary roof, to eventually your own roof. From my bills to your own bills. From living under the rules and rhythms of my life, to living more fully, and gradually at first, to the rules and rhythms of your own life.   

It’s an amazing transition, and if you do it right, it can be a thrilling and ultimately successful journey to a life for which you’re proud to call your own. One that sustains you and others. From who you are as a kid, to who you’ll be as an adult. An in-between time; between the life you’ve had that I built, and the life you’ll have that you build.  

Graduation CeremonyThe goals of this in-between time are threefold: first to get the education and job skills you need to build a life to support yourself and others, second to learn about yourself as a burgeoning adult, and third to build and contribute to an expanding community. 

Toward those ends, I want to offer you some advice. You’re already doing most of this stuff, so keep it up, and continue to grow!  

Be Adventurous

The world is out there to be explored and experienced, wherever you find yourself. Wake up with a sense of wonder about what the day will bring. Opportunity abounds around you. Be bold and take some risks. If you don’t like a path you’re on, find a better path. And enjoy the journey and the people you meet along the way.

Be Smart

Be safe, use good judgment, and say yes at times, and no at others. Take care of your body and protect yourself. At times, listen to the wisdom around you. If your spirit is warning you of danger, listen. College is often a time when we take unnecessary risks. Be careful and smart about the risks you take. 

Be Industrious

Work hard and develop your skills. Be a learner. Study new things. Invest in your education which is an investment in your life. Be open to challenges and constructive criticism. Exert effort. Strive.

Be Polite (and Friendly)

Smile. Say “thank you”. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be entitled. Be appreciative and courteous. Ask for help and respond to the needs of others. Reduce suffering. Find community, and be a good friend.  Brighten the day for others. Be Light.

Be Balanced Graduation Cap

Continue to seek balance. Be well-rounded. It all adds up to greatness. And don’t get too far out about anything, especially in a way that prevents you from hearing the wisdom of others. Allow yourself to be extreme at times, and then come back to balance. Find your Center. Rest.

Be Successful

Find some career path. Find something you’re good at, that you enjoy, for which you can make a real living. You won’t be great at everything, and you won’t enjoy everything, but find something you’re good at that will pay the bills.  

Be Accountable

Set some goals for yourself and try to achieve them. Live by some standards, and stick to them. Keep your word and meet your deadlines. Reread this list each semester and give yourself a grade. Find a few things you’re doing well and a few things to work on. Set some new goals, make and follow a plan, and be honest with yourself.

Believe

The world is big, people have been around for thousands of years, the Universe is expanding, and humans have always looked to the Heavens wondering what it all means. You don’t have to believe what I believe but believe in something bigger than yourself. Have faith. Look up, look in, be curious and wonder.

Be You

I like you, and I think you’re a really interesting person. You have gifts and talents I appreciate. I also can’t wait to see who you become, and I’m cheering you on all along the way. Be YOU, and find a community that appreciates you. Don’t be a jerk, keep working on yourself, be flexible and take feedback, grow and change as needed, but be yourself because you’re really great already. Believe that, and find a community that feels that way about You as well.  

Finally, GO live, love, and swing for the fences. Do good work, be successful, find love, and give it all you’ve got.  

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BTW – This isn’t a message your kid needs to hear from you only once, and at graduation. They need these messages massaged into life over many years, and in many ways. Parenting isn’t a speech, it’s a relationship. It’s a journey. It’s a connection.  



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