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  • Writer's pictureAdia Paulete

Dear Seniors: How to navigate college, mental health and personal growth post high school”

Growing up can be exciting–-new chapters, new perspectives, new privileges. Growing up can also feel daunting. Freedom always comes with new responsibilities, expectations and commitments. At the end of high school we can feel overwhelmed with choices and our own farewell to who we used to be. At these huge milestone moments I like to take time to appreciate the many versions of myself that have culminated into the person I am now. I ask myself, “how in the world did I persevere?”

The truth is, it is often challenging to pinpoint a single factor that kept you going. Growing up is a complex and almost mystical experience. One of my biggest lessons has been that nothing lasts forever. To paraphrase Octavia Butler, everything is constantly changing and that is what we can always count on. In good and hard times, knowing this helps me to keep pushing forward.

Whether you are taking a gap year (or two) or going directly into college, the process of settling into who you are becoming will be powerful. It will call for self-reflection in everything that you do. Learning about things around you is also learning about yourself. The more we are made open to the human experience of others, the more we expose our own experiences.

I encourage you to face these new understandings with humility, openness and grace. I encourage you to listen and learn without your own perceptions, ideas and positionality dictating the way you interact with these new realizations. And I encourage you to not judge your past perspectives. Our understanding is limited to our experiences, therefore, treat yourself with kindness.

Here are my top 5 things to remember in this new chapter of life. These are focused on the college bound, but can also be applied to the adventurous gap year takers or anyone transitioning out of their high school years.

1. Prioritize your mental health

Whatever that looks like for you, this is the most important thing in my opinion. There is so much going on in this new stage of life that we can forget to take the time to reflect on how we are doing. College is the perfect storm for our personal well being to be challenged. Take care of yourself like you’re your own child (silly, but thought provoking).

2. Take all the social science classes you can

I was a Sociology and Anthropology major so I focused on human behavior. But social science classes are important for whatever your focus is (Public Health, Psychology, Sports, Social Work, Medical, Journalism, Art, Education, etc). Classes such as Women's Studies, Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, and Religious Studies serve the crucial purpose of illuminating the ways in which individuals are deeply enmeshed in our complex social systems. Through these courses, you can gain an understanding of how various groups are impacted by and interact with the larger structures of power and privilege in our society. This understanding is beneficial regardless of what profession you decide to pursue.

3. Make connections outside of your school

Sometimes school can feel like a bubble. It can feel safe, it can feel intense, it can feel like everything all at once. I recommend taking breaks away, even making friends outside of school. Getting a job at a restaurant, book store, or specialty shop can help you feel connected to the larger community. I loved working at a restaurant because it helped me dissolve my anxiety around assignments I had and gain social skills that were not going to be taught in school. I was also able to feel like I was a known part of my town, which was important to me. Everything you do can be a great learning opportunity.

4. Find your perfect place to work

I bounced around from a couple coffee shops to write essays and study. I think it was the perfect amount of background noise to focus, and lovely cozy warm drinks made working so much more enjoyable. The library can be great too, but if friends are around who want to distract you, they will. Have those spaces that are special to you as well as those spaces with your people. If you create a routine or ritual for yourself, it helps so much with feeling grounded while powering out your fourth 25 page essay this semester.

5. Meet your soul friends

My college pals are still my favorite people. We can all get together after a long time apart and continue where we left off. We grow separately, but simultaneously we grow together. These people are my soul friends. The people you are friends with in your first year might not be your besties next year. Allow that change to happen until you fit in seamlessly with the people around you. You can ask yourself questions like: “Do these people build me up or knock me down?” “Am I the best version of myself with them?” “Do we just get each other without expectations or judgment?” You will also figure out who your people are when y’all go through hard times. Are y’all there for each other in meaningful ways? Will you listen and learn from each other? As y’all transform and grow, will you continue to be there for each other? If yes, these are all indicative of soul friends.

So cheers to all of you seniors! You are all incredible and the world is so fortunate to have you in it. Here’s to many great friendships, great experiences, manageable hurdles, easy tears and a lot of laughter. Go be whoever you damn well please. And remember, always in the words of John Lewis, “get in good trouble.”

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