What I Want To Say To My High School Graduate

by Kelly Richardson
Originally Published: 
High school graduates holding their hats up in the air
Rawpixel / Getty

How can it be that just four short years ago I was writing a column as you entered high school? I gave you advice such as stay organized, be involved with school activities, and ask for help when you needed it.

I encouraged you to get to know your principal (you did), to surround yourself with people of good character (check), and to get familiar with the school library (no comment). I told you the time would fly by and, sure enough, it did.

Trust me, if there was a pause button on life, I would have hit it a long time ago so I could keep you my little one forever.

Now we are on the verge of another milestone, only this one involves big change. This milestone isn’t about just growing up, it’s about being a grown-up. Graduation says, “OK, world. I’m ready. Let’s see where to go from here. It’s time for change and I’m ready to show you what I got. It’s time to spread my wings and fly.”

As a parent, this moment causes us the most pride and the most pain. Our brains are full of excitement and wonder for you, but our hearts feel something different. We know the magnitude of the milestone and we know what follows.

I know when you were growing up I asked too many questions. Forgive me. It was only because I still (and always will) long for a connection to you. I am interested in everything you do. You are my world. But I learned quickly that you weren’t usually looking for me to give you a solution or fix your problem, you just wanted me to listen. So listen I did, and boy did I learn.

I learned you had developed an amazing moral compass. You know how to treat all people with kindness. You know the value of a firm handshake and remembering people’s names. You know how to have boundaries but still have fun with your friends. You know to stay grounded and be humble. You know how to make $10 last a whole week. You know that time spent with your grandparents is never wasted. You know that staying angry or hurt doesn’t make you feel better. You forgave people and you moved on. I learned that you are much smarter than me in so many areas.

High school wasn’t always easy. Let’s be honest: It was downright painful sometimes. You entered a different person than you are leaving and there are scars to prove it. Scars are like beautiful battle wounds, though – they remind you of what you have been through and how strong you are for coming out healed. No one leaves high school without any scars. I hope you know the moments you got hurt just make you normal and human. You are better off for what those moments taught you about your strengths, your resilience, and your inner toughness.

Thank you for letting me join you on the journey and forgiving me for all the mistakes I made during your process. At times I watched you struggle and wanted to swoop in and rescue you, but I didn’t. I stood back and I hurt right with you. Looking back, it’s those moments that you struggled that I think you grew the most.

You learned what true friendship looks like and you chose to beat your own path, even if that meant being left out of “fun” things. You learned to be more concerned with your character and your integrity than your reputation. You made tough choices to stay home and hang out with your parents when friends were doing things you did not want to be a part of. And let me add, we loved every minute of it when you did hang out with us. You showed courage to stay you and not follow the crowd. You learned to laugh at yourself and laugh with others. You worked hard and you saw it pay off.

A few final tips before you launch (sniffle!):

▪ Even in the most challenging times never forget that you have a voice and the power to change things. You are now of voting age, so vote wisely.

▪ The longest distance between any two points is the shortcut. Wanting something now means you will probably pay later. Be willing to work hard, get dirty, and have blisters.

▪ Remember that you always have a choice. No matter what the situation.

▪ Be brave enough to say I’m sorry, or I love you, or I forgive you.

▪ Only spend what you have. Being broke in college or anywhere after high school is a rite of passage. Celebrate Top Ramen and dorm food. One day you will look back and smile on these days.

▪ Success is not measured by your job, your education, how much money you have, or what kind of car you drive. Success is determined by who you are, how you treat others, and how you lead your life.

▪ Show gratitude to all of those people who have gotten you to where you are today. Don’t look down on anyone unless you are helping them up.

▪ Confidence, combined with a passion to make the world a better place, can be a very positive force.

▪ Surround yourself with people who remind you of how amazing you are, and avoid the ones that don’t.

▪ Life doesn’t always follow the plans you have made out for yourself. Be prepared for highs and lows. Celebrate the highs and ask for help during the lows.

▪ Remember: There is no place like home. Never forget that you always have a soft place at home, even if your sister takes over your closet.

▪ Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

I am ready to take a step back now and watch your life unfold. It will be my biggest change and challenge yet, but I trust you and I trust you will embrace all that life gives you. I trust you are ready and you can handle whatever life throws at you.

I also trust you know to call your Nana, not me, if you find yourself overdrawn on your bank account.

You might not know what the future holds, but I’m pretty sure I can make a few predictions. I believe you will continue to soar and grow. You will remember the lessons of your childhood and apply them as needed. You will contribute to your community, and you will fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability. You will stay true to who you are and you will continue to treat others with kindness. Because of that, you will find success, no matter how it is measured.

Good kids still exist. Thank you for being one of those kids. Thank you for staying the course. Thank you for teaching me and for being you. Enjoy your graduation and please allow me to take all the pictures I want. I know it annoys you, but it’s my job. Some things will never change.

Love you to the moon and back,


This article was originally published on