Graduation. It’s a word that, by its own virtue, is enough to strike fear or joy into the hearts of seniors facing the “edge” of their high school experience.

Indeed, few face this milestone completely indifferent. I know seniors that don’t feel ready to enter the adult world quite yet, and others who seemingly were there in spirit by their freshman year.

But given that graduation is an occasion of such momentous significance to so many (myself included), I think it worthwhile to reflect on why it means so much to the thousands of young adults facing these new horizons. My thoughts are mainly split into three categories — where I’ve come from, where I’m going and how what I do now will affect that.

Graduation past

It has been a surreal experience to see the end of such a large chunk of my life come to a close. After all, I still remember my first day of kindergarten! Most details about the day are hazy, but I remember being excited for school and for learning. I think that’s probably how most kids felt — naturally curious about the world.

Graduation gives us the opportunity to really look at our past school years in a meaningful way and see the progress we have made. Surely we have all had setbacks and trials, but if we have done the work to foster an attitude of learning and growth, we have been able to emerge better people.

Even those who think that they are no better than their past self have the virtue of hindsight. They can more easily see their mistakes, and see how to improve for the future.

Graduation future

Conversely, graduation also prompts us to look to our futures. Each of us has worked to be where we are, consciously or unconsciously moving to different prospects for our futures. Graduation has reminded me that although school represents 13 years of my life, it is really only a beginning.

The National Center for Education Statistics projected that almost 20 million students would attend college in the 2018 year. The path of college calls to many, looming ahead, both intimidating and inviting.

For me, the freedom of striking out on my own is tempered by the realization of what that truly means for my new responsibilities. It’s a future that I have prepared myself for through becoming a learner in school. It’s up to me to use my education in meaningful ways to positively impact my future and my community. Hopefully, everyone can develop the ability to see themselves as able to make a real impact. The world needs people who are willing to act and change the world for the better.

Graduation present

This is the truly vital portion of our reflection. In order to continue our quests of self-improvement, we must continually evaluate where we are right now. Our future depends on what we do now, and as such, we are compelled to see our abilities clearly. It requires a measure of optimism.

Now optimism is a quality that I think is somewhat disparaged in current times. After all, it’s easy to feel scared of the state of the world. It’s easy to allow worry to stop us from doing what we need to do. Several years ago, I had a teacher impart some wisdom on that very subject, wisdom that has stuck with me. This teacher told our class that if we stop living our lives, if we allow fear — and those who thrive upon it — to rule our actions, we have let them win.

The world is far from being healed from the rifts inside it. Terror is propagated at an alarming rate. Hate is prevalent — across political lines, across family lines, across country lines. The problem is that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In our reflections on graduation, it is entirely possible to look at the world with optimism. It requires us to trust, to care and to be the best people we can be.

It’s time we stopped justifying our own hateful actions by pointing at someone else. Graduation gives a unique time to look at our lives and take steps to become the people the world needs. Our past mistakes don’t have to bring us down, and our worries for the future don’t have to paralyze us if we take each day as it comes.

Thus, to my fellow graduates, my challenge to you is to become the people the world needs. Become the person that you need. With caring, reflection and the bravery to act, it’s not only possible, it’s inevitable.

In the end, the graduates of all Utah schools — big or small, public or private, sports-focused or STEM-focused — have the potential to change their world for the better. I hope 2019 graduates will take the time to reflect on how they have achieved those things they have thus far. I hope they will see where they have improved. I hope they will see how they can improve further. But most of all, I hope they know they can be a powerful force for good. Because all these communities need people that can and will be real and meaningful members.

The world needs people that will change it. Will you?

Sierra Clark is a senior at Venture High School. She plays piano and flute and is an avid reader, but most of all she enjoys learning all about new things. Email her at s.siclark@venturelearning.org.

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