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What I Would Tell My Senior Self

Looking Back Over 20 Years Ago

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By Rachel Papke

You can take away and cancel the things: school, prom, graduation commencement, sports, tournaments, events, vacations, jobs, the gym—but these are all just things. It is human nature to be angry, upset, fearful, sad, and have anxiety when the things stop suddenly and it’s out of your control. And, by all means, feel your negative feelings. But please try not to wallow in that headspace for too long—reach in, engage your resilience, and rise up—because these are all just things.

While it may not feel like it now, these are just things that matter less and less as the years go by.

The stuff that really matters isn’t taken away from you, even in the face of COVID-19 social distancing—you carry it within yourself; it’s been with you all along your journey. You may not realize it yet, but you’ve been fine-tuning it as you’ve learned, failed, fallen, risen, gotten to know your weaknesses, strengths, emotions, needs, skills. You will reach inward as time goes by and build upon it year-after-year: it is you

COVID-19 can’t take away you—your athletic ability, musical talent, creativity, intelligence, humor, spirituality, whatever makes you—uniquely—you. Moreover, COVID-19 can’t cancel the meaningful connections that will only strengthen over time—the friendships, family bonds—the stuff that really matters.

Society sets forth many growth milestones to steer you to believe or feel otherwise. These milestones aren’t always talked about but we feel their heavy weight, the stress, the pressure, if we aren’t meeting these milestones. It’s a looming pressure that says we must experience these rites of passage in our lives for our lives to matter. 

It’s simply not the case. It’s false news. 

So, here’s what’s real. What I remember from my senior year are the moments of love, empathy, kindness, the people who showed up to support me, and the friendships—these are the things that matter. When you pair these with your resilience—oh, the places you’ll go. 

And yes, get that degree so that you can support the lifestyle you would like to live. But, remember, it’s not the commencement that matters: it’s all of the hours, days, months, years that you’ve invested in developing yourself and your moral compass that will guide you to achieve your goals and thrive in your lifetime. It’s the connections you’ve made and the relationships you’ve trusted through thick and thin. 

Yes, there will be set-backs. But there will also always be brightness in your life. If you encounter times where you can only see darkness remember there is always someone out there to help you if reaching in is simply not enough. In summary, what I would tell my senior self is that you are worthy: you got this. 

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