Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By Barbara Dougherty
ATLANTA - Everyone makes your high school graduation out to be as important as the day you were born, but as a college student, I can tell you, it's not. High school doesn't really prepare you for anything except leaving, which you want to do so badly by the time you're done that you could go anywhere and be happy.
One of the most amusing inevitabilities of a high school graduation, besides the corny songs and crying parents are the speeches. Graduation speeches so often concentrate on the idea, "oh, we've finally gotten somewhere," that they recycle the same unrealistic outlook on what's next. While it's appropriate to celebrate your accomplishments, there is hardly any focus on how little high school prepares you for how lost, alone, yet empowered you feel when you actually do leave. In fact, there really is no preparation for life outside the confines of your parents' control.
For me, this realization came my second semester in college when I got really sick. After two trips to urgent care with no explanation as to why I was hurling all the time and couldn't speak, I returned a third time, nauseous, sweating, exhausted, and severely dehydrated. The nurse immediately put an IV in my arm after she somehow calmed my crying and I fell asleep there on the table as the IV dripped fluid back into my veins. By the time I was supposed to leave, my cell phone wouldn't get service, my choice of friends with cars was limited and nobody would answer the dreaded "unknown" call from the hospital's number.
So there I was -- stuck without a ride, two and half miles from school, antibiotics prescription in hand and physically and mentally exhausted (from what I later found out to be an old case of mono on top of a antibiotic-resistant strain of strep.)
What was I to do? Stay at urgent care all night? It smelled too weird in there and the whining sick kids in the waiting room were starting to get to me. So I began walking. It was winter, freezing outside, slush on the ground, and I had holes in my rain boots. But I walked anyway, nauseous as I was, picking up my antibiotics at the nearest Walgreens on the way. I felt incredibly ill; the only thing keeping me going was the music blasting from my iPod. Plus, I had hit that point of delirium when you just don't care anymore. Sobbing the entire way I kept wondering why this was happening to me. But in the back of my mind I knew this was one of those cliched, "make you stronger" moments.
If my parents had been there at urgent care, I would never have had to walk home. I would never have listened to those songs, I would never have done all that crying, I would never have thrown up the antibiotics on my school's lawn as soon as I got there. I would never have stubbornly refused a ride from the Chinese food delivery man at the last turn of my trip. I would never have called my mom, crying harder than ever before, begging her to come get me. I would never have felt so completely drained and empty.
And I would never have felt so damn accomplished when I made it back.
But let's be honest. A story like mine isn't the kind you hear in grad speeches, because your parents have spent your whole life making sure you never have to experience those kinds of things. But on the day of your high school graduation, it's like they're finally telling you the world you've been living in is a sheltered one. They relinquish their control, reminding you that you are an independent being who can fend for yourself.
It's ironic that the moment closing your high school career when you feel on top of the world actually marks the beginning of a phase of your life where you are vulnerable. It changes you for the better, but it's not exactly what you'd expect after listening to all those idealistic speeches about how prepared you are for the real world. Trust me, if you learn anything of value when you leave, it's that nothing can prepare you for that.
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