Commonwealth Journal


May 22, 2014

Grads leave high school well-prepared for life

Somerset — Tonight, the current crop of seniors from my high school alma mater receive their diplomas. ‘Tis the season for graduations, and Somerset High School will be saying goodbye to the class of 2014. Next weekend, Pulaski County High School and Southwestern High School will do likewise. I’m too bad at math to have ever had a decent shot at giving a valedictorian or salutatorian speech — and not enough of a social butterfly to have been a class president — so I never got the opportunity to stand up in front of my classmates and give them some parting wisdom. You know the kind. Every class has their own version. The in-jokes and remembrances of wacky hijinks and grueling courses. The pledge to find one’s own way in life while holding on to the values and friendships garnered in school. The quotes — usually by someone like Abraham Lincoln or Dr. Seuss. These are the hallmarks of almost every graduation I’ve ever attended, right along with the ceremonial hat toss and trusty rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.” Far from accusing anyone of clichés, I see these as important rites of passage for each generation. There is value in ritual and tradition, for one class to get the chance to participate in the same customs as those that came before. It reminds you that you’re a part of something bigger. But since I never had the chance, I figure the opinion page is as good a place as any to give my commencement address — with the wisdom of 15 years of hindsight, of course. This is what I’d say to the graduates of this or any other age: High school is not at all like the real world. It’s also exactly like the real world. School is crystal clear. You know what the standards are. You know what’s expected of you. Fulfill your assignment requirements, and you will get a grade that objectively represents the quality of your work. Do what you’re supposed to, and there’s your A. It’s that simple. In the real world, it doesn’t work like that. Your worth to the working world will not be judged objectively, but rather subjectively — how much value do you provide to your employer? To your clients? To the market? Just because you work hard and work well doesn’t mean your work will be appreciated. Trust me. I can write what a non-partial observer might consider a great article because it’s fair, well-composed and of local interest, and I’ll get ripped up one side and down the other by somebody because they didn’t like the angle they perceived it to take. I’ve also written articles that I didn’t feel like I put a lot of effort into that have been praised because they brought light to a subject that was important to someone else. So don’t consider that the world owes you anything. You have to find out how you can make a difference on your own, even if it isn’t the way you originally imagined. It won’t always seem fair. You will feel unappreciated. You might feel like people who aren’t as smart as you or as skilled get better opportunities. That’s just the way it goes. If you can’t adapt and figure out how to make it work, you’re going to have problems. And that’s how life is exactly like high school at the same time. The social jungle of school is brutal. Your popularity, your love life, and often, unfortunately, your sense of self-worth will all be affected less by the merits you would be judged by in the classroom, and more by the preferences and whims of those around you. There will be cliques; you will be shut out of most of them. Hopefully, you can find your place in one that suits you. In life, you will be judged in a similar way, having your worth boiled down in an instant to a simple fleeting impression by people who don’t know you and have no idea what you’re going through or what’s in your head. But there is a place for you. A “clique” of life, if you will. Strive to find it. Don’t waste your time with people who don’t want you in their sphere. Make time for the people who do want you around, who value you and what you bring to the table. Don’t take them for granted. They — whether friends, family, romantic partners, employers or co-workers — are what success in life is all about. Everything you need to know about life, you’ve already learned in the halls of high school. You should also forget how things worked in the classroom and re-learn how to succeed. That’s my advice to the class of ‘14. chris harris is a staff writer for the Commonwealth Journal. You can reach him at

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