Last year at a graduation party, I watched as guest after guest asked a young boy where he was headed to college after graduation.
Each time, he sheepishly replied, “I’m taking a year off to work to save money, and after that, I’m not sure.”
People responded each time differently. “Well, don’t put it off too long.” Or, “Maybe you could just take a class or two.” Or even, “Oh. Interesting.”
And his face lit up. He talked about traveling cross-country with his dad to visit 10 baseball stadiums and starting his new job at a big retail chain. He openly told her that he was also taking the summer to figure out if he thought college was right for him because he struggled in high school.
Senior year can be stressful, especially if your student is unsure of what they want to do next
Somewhere along the line, we forgot that graduation is celebrating what a student achieved as opposed to putting more pressure on what comes next.
We started to believe that where a kid goes to college determines who they are or what they will become.
We forget that there are so many options post-graduation that can make a person successful, including the military, trade school, entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, work experience, volunteering, or even taking a gap year to focus on mental health.
We stopped taking honest assessments of our kids’ capabilities, what they want from their post-high school experience, and what your family can afford. That means considering all options with an open mind. Not every student is suited for a traditional four-year college program (or maybe aren’t equipped to handle it immediately after high school graduation) or maybe an alternative to college would be a better answer.
If your child is going to college, that is fantastic. You should celebrate. You should be proud.
Let’s not assume every kid is walking down that same path, however. And if they aren’t, that it’s not the right thing for them.
Focus on the graduate, not their future
As more and more students receive letters confirming where they are attending school next year, I keep thinking about the young man and the awkwardness he felt that day, answering question after question about something that did not pertain to him, making him feel less than his peers and uncomfortable.
I’m reminded how students must feel when they can’t participate in “Wear Your College T-Shirt Day” at their high school or post about their future plans on the graduating class Instagram.
We need to build our kids up–every single one–irrespective of their future plans. We need to stop the myth that our young people need to know their life’s plan at the age of 18.
As a high school senior, you don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do or where you want to go.
They are only at the beginning of your journey, just at the starting line of life, and we shouldn’t expect them to be anywhere but right where they are: looking ahead and wondering which way they should go. No one can predict what’s to come, even if they have everything mapped out. Their course can derail, their minds might change, their circumstances might wind around a bend that takes them in a completely different direction.
Changing our questions can change everything for a graduate
I resolved at that moment to stop asking seniors, “Where do you want to go to college?” and instead use my friend’s line instead: “Do you have any fun plans after graduation?”
If a young person wants to share if they are going to a college or any other plans, I’ll leave it to them, but I don’t want to be the reason they feel bad about their choice.
Let’s normalize that college isn’t for everyone.
Let’s congratulate them on whatever choices they make for themselves.
Let’s celebrate the young people who make the best decisions for their unique needs.
Let’s take the pressure off of what’s next and instead ask about something fun.
Let’s stop thinking there’s only one path to success.
The graduation season is coming fast, and many teens are stressed about their future plans.
Let’s try to celebrate where they are at this moment instead of putting pressure on what they are going to do next.