Psychologist Erik Erikson theorized that humans develop throughout a distinct set of stages throughout their life that focus on psychosocial development, or how we mesh our individual needs with the demands of society. As infants, we grapple with the concept of trusting our parents, and as toddlers and young kids we struggle with learning, initiating, and completing tasks on our own or we feel guilt, shame, and worry. Right now, we are in the end stages of the identity versus role confusion stage, the same one we have been stuck in since middle school. There’s this idea that you’re supposed to test out roles as a teenager- be rebellious, find your voice, passion, and identity. A time when it’s natural to question your religion, sexual orientation, gender, and place of being. We’ve nearly reached the end, and yet, I still don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface in finding out who the person I want to become, and maybe you might be feeling the same way- but I’m starting to think that maybe that’s okay.
Humans crave order. We feast on having complete control over our own lives and retaining their normalcy in any way possible. We want routine, and sometimes we need it to survive, and however, you may want to look at it, realize that High School, Middle School, Elementary school, and Preschool have provided us with this impermeable cycle of being. Change is inevitable, however, so while we may have lost the snack time, recess, and free time that our primary school gave us, they were replaced by core curricular classes in middle school, and study halls in High School. With physical growth in age comes maturity in spirit, and like a butterfly shedding from its cocoon, we are happy to accept these new roles and routines that make us seem older, cooler, and wiser if anything. These slight changes were nothing immediately taxing, and we were able to adapt and overcome them. Some people still may mourn the loss of frequent half days, holiday fairs, no finals and midterms, fun class activities, and class parties, but realistically, these uproot in our schedules have hardly even made a dent in the frames of our lives in the way graduating will.
It’s a very nuanced but subtle realization that you will one day wake up, put on a blue cap and gown, walk across a stage and receive a piece of paper that essentially tells you that you’ve passed this chapter of your life, and it’s on to the next. That the entire schedule your whole life has revolved around will no longer be relevant to you. The people who you’ve been surrounded by for your whole life, whether you liked them or not, may now cease to exist to you. It’s strangely scary and fascinating to grasp that the people who you did many of your “firsts” with, will now exist only as a very faded memory of your past. You’ve celebrated birthdays, the loss of baby teeth, field trips, recitals, holiday parties, riding bikes without training wheels, licenses, passing the SAT, and so many other milestones with this one group of people that will now branch off into their directions. I like to think of high school as a tree, we all come from the same bark that comprises the trunk, and as we grow, we branch out into different directions. Some of us grow leaves, others grow flowers, fruit, thorns, or maybe even smaller branches, but in the end, we all stand together collectively as one unified whole.
Graduation is supposed to be a happy time, and in many ways, it is, staying in the same spot forever can be boring, and is an impediment to personal growth. Yet, one can not help but mourn the loss of the life they’ve known so well. It’s bittersweet, you leave behind the old, in place of the new. You fall off the tree and become just another seed waiting to sprout back up into something bigger than yourself again. There’s still this pressure to find your directions straight after high school. You’re expected to find a college and pick a major you will base your entire life’s career on, and to do that, you have to finalize your identity first. It’s a daunting task for those still trying to figure things out. In 5th grade, I used to imagine myself having everything figured out by the time I graduated from high school. I would know how to do all the things adult people do: I would go off to college, know how to do taxes, have a lot of friends, have a stable job, and most importantly, be happy with myself. But I still don’t know all these things, I feel that I’m still working on them, and some of these ideas still seem so far away. Graduating without a complete plan or being satisfied with yourself can tend to make you feel like you’re being trapped in an hourglass as the sand piles on top. For as much enthusiasm is poured into graduating there is also the suffocating sadness of learning to be fully independent and go off to college or the workforce without a teacher or parent by your side.
As I said before, we are all branches of the same tree, growing out in different directions, so I think the high school experience varies depending on who you listen to, but if you ask me, I can only say that if you ever want to enjoy the highs, you must be willing to withstand the lows. Growing up and going through years of schooling requires one thing: adaptability. You need to give yourself time to blossom, and with that comes learning to survive the assignments, deadlines, friend groups, loneliness, sadness, anger, frustration, and the whole whirlwind of thoughts that come with being a teenager. You may not know all these things by the time you cross that stage, but if I’ve come to learn anything as I’ve begun the process of uprooting my life, it’s that everything will be okay. You will find a way to figure things out, you’ve been trained to be a problem-solver your whole life. Failure is inevitable, but never binding, especially if you have enough resilience to pick yourself back up.
Graduating feels like a sigh of relief, some reprieve from all the essays, tests, deadlines, and complexities of teenage relationships, but it’s also frightening. It’s the world’s happiest funeral, you gain something new, from what you must leave behind. We are now all left to grow up and become our own trees, and I think that’s the beauty of it all.