May 22, 2020

What I wanted to tell the 18-year-old Stranger wearing a Graduation Gown.


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This afternoon as I was about to begin my hike, there was a lovely 18-year-old student having her high school graduation pictures taken by a lake at the base of the trailhead.

Her face was full of makeup and her eyes were glassy with hope. It took me back to when I was 18, and about to graduate. I stood there remembering what it was like to wear that strange, silky gown and sit in the sticky heat at my graduation ceremony, waiting for my name to be called.

I remember looking around me at the people who, for the most part, had been in my realm of reality for 18 years. Best friends, those who used to be friends but turned into acquaintances as life changed, the people I would see at parties and share foggy-brained conversations with over warm beers, classmate friends (the kind of beautiful bonds you make with those who you would never have talked to if you didn’t sit next to each other in Algebra 2), first boyfriends, first kisses, those who I had known since Kindergarten yet hadn’t spoken to in years.

I remember looking into the bleachers and spotting my family—my mom, my dad, and my sister—three little specks of stardust. My relationship with them at that point in my life wasn’t always easy, but now I know how lucky I am to have had those little specks of stardust out there rooting for me.

I remember walking up to receive a piece of paper and shaking someone in the administration’s hand who I had never spoken to before.

I remember switching the tassel, signifying one stage of life was over, and one was about to begin.

I remember actually sighing a breath of relief that I graduated—my grades were sh*t, but somehow I had teachers who believed in me enough to pass me without a single percentage of wiggle room.

I remember feeling shame about not going to a four year university, as I watched all of my closest friends go down that path—yet at the same time, I remember not even wanting to go to a four year university. Isn’t it wild, that we can feel such large amounts of shame over things we don’t even want to do, or people we don’t even want to be? I remember seeing almost everyone I knew begin the trek up this linear path, and I remember feeling different than everyone around me.

I wanted to get on planes and travel long and far. I wanted to see new oceans, try new foods, and have my heart touched by the wild world. Not another desk, and not another system that questioned my intelligence if I couldn’t pass marine biology. I wanted to hear a stranger’s life story in the morning over strong espresso, and I wanted to hear another one the same night under black skies and white moonlight.

I remember feeling free, yet trapped.

I looked at this beautiful 18-year-old with the world ahead of her, standing under the wisdom of evergreen trees in her silk gown. I don’t know her, or what makes her heart beat, but I wish I could have sat with her—for just a moment—to tell her how big and juicy this world is.

I wish I could tell her how much space there is in this world for her. How her dreams are never too far to reach, and how those big wise trees she’s standing under will always be there to hold her when her heart is broken. I wish I could tell her that when her heart breaks, it will heal, and then when it breaks again, it will heal once more.

I wish I could tell her that it is okay to forge your own path in life—even when it’s scary, unconventional, and makes people uncomfortable.

I wish I could tell her to stop worrying so much about making other people comfortable.

I wish I could tell her to stand in her truth with her feet sealed to the dirt.

I wish I could tell her that it is okay to explore and experiment with life. That it’s all part of the process of becoming.

I wish I could tell her that even though people are probably saying she needs to know who she wants to be, and what she wants to do, she doesn’t.

I wish I could tell her that when she feels lost and lonely, the moon and the stars will be there to listen.

I wish I could tell her how held she is, even when it feels like she is falling.

I wish I could tell her how damn good it feels when you find yourself after heartbreak, or finally find a career you love after seven years of sh*t jobs that have humbled the crap out of you.

I wish I could tell her how good it feels when you put your art into this world and into the hands of others.

There is so, so much I wish I could tell her.

I held space for her in my heart for just one more moment, as I made my way by her and her family to begin my hike.

I smiled and said, “Congratulations, love,” as I pass by and continued on my way.


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