Because of the way school districts used to determine the age cut-offs for entering kindergarten, I started school at age 4 and graduated high school at 17. I had been at college almost two months …
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Because of the way school districts used to determine the age cut-offs for entering kindergarten, I started school at age 4 and graduated high school at 17. I had been at college almost two months when I turned 18.
I don’t remember much about my high school graduation, there in the Monte Vista High School gym, except that about 100 of us in silvery green robes sat in solemn rows on the polished wood floor, then filed to the front for our diplomas. Afterward, we laughed and we hugged … and some of us cried. Not me, though. I was eager for my next adventure.
Now, as I look back and consider the adventures and misadventures that have led me to where I am today, I have some thoughts I’d like to have shared with my bright-eyed 17-year-old self, as she embarked for the first time into a world outside of the little town where she was born.
First, I would tell her to be true to herself … but to a young graduate, what does that really mean? Looking back, I would be able to warn my young self that the path she was going to choose — a lifelong career in the business world — would not be kind to women. I would tell her that employers will deny her pay increases, because she’s married and her income is just “supplemental” to her husband’s, but to recognize and understand her own worth and value, her own talent and contributions, anyway. I’d let her know things will get better, but not soon and not enough.
I would tell her that the powerful men she encounters, as clients or colleagues, will believe they can fondle and harass her, against her wishes. And, as emphatically as I could, I would make sure she knew that none of this is okay, that none of it is her fault, and that the only way to take charge of her life and be true to herself is to speak up … not to wait 40 years when she would simply be another #MeToo statistic.
I would tell her how important it is to have a purpose in life beyond oneself, to make a difference in the world. I would let her know how easy it is to have a positive impact on the lives of the people around her and remind her that making a difference might be as simple as planting flowers for her neighbors to enjoy.
I would tell her that the world she inherits will continue to face racial, social and political crises, and that she will find herself in situations where to remain silent is to become complicit, no matter how awkward or unpopular her positions might be.
Perhaps most importantly, I would assure her that she will be strong enough to weather the inevitable storms we all must endure, that she will have family and friends with her every step of the way.
Would any of this have made a difference all those years ago? I do think so … and I believe it can make a difference today for both young women and men: Be true to yourselves and find a way to make a difference in the world.
Congratulations on your graduations!
Andrea Doray is a writer who is eternally grateful to the friends and family who really truly have been with her every step of the way. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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