They were the best of times, if only someone had told me

Itís hard for me to imagine offering advice to someone graduating high school. Before Iím able to even drop a single word, I quickly double-check the results of my own experiences so far tallied and I find my qualifications lacking. I certainly donít have all the answers Ė certainly none of the ones I need in my current station in life Ė but it seems like just only a moment ago, six years, I was in your shoes.

Although I canít say Iím an example to be followed, I am familiar with the personal identity and emotional dilemmas that brace the teen to early twenty years.

Having just stepped out of them myself, I wish I could go back. They were the best of times. If only someone had told me.

Now itís hard to offer good advice because really it just an opinion and everybodyís got a million of them. To avoid that, let me be as honest as I can.

First, congratulations to all of you moving ahead to college; make sure you wish those who are not your condolences before you go. Although other options such as joining the military industrial complex or entering a starving blue collar workforce are before you, nothing trumps the advantages gained by a higher education.

There are of course exceptions to every rule, but unless youíre that remarkable student whoís developed a keen sense of discipline at a young age and an exceptional devotion to the academic, then youíll fall in to a group that lingers in a gray area of potential Ė the C + to A- group. I was in this group myself and much relies on our ability to make good decisions. The power of choice will lead to either the light of opportunity and growth or the darkness of necessity and function. My lifeís turns have become the latter.

You are at the point in life where you represent pure potential. At 18 you can become anything you apply yourself to be. Each year that now passes will add additional challenges to those options. Potential is only worth something if it is used to seize opportunity. These are the years where the extremes of these two factors come together and depending on how you use the time, your actions now can be exponential in the decades to come.

They say ďThe Lord ponders the heartĒ and in the next few years youíll come to understand that burden. Understand that except for maybe your mother, people wonít always love you no matter what. The bleeding of friends will now begin with those on the horizon of familiarity first. Over time, a shrinking island of close friends will eventually represent the remnants of your high school era relationships. Choose them carefully and make efforts to hold on to as many as you can. Trust me, in five years theyíll be some of the best investments youíve ever made no matter where you are in life.

A wave of awkward and uncomfortable sensations will soon envelop you in an exhilarating world of first time experiences Ė the ones many dwell upon for the rest of their days. In this chaotic time youíll start to carve out the roots of an identity thatíll begin to define you for the rest of your life. Itís OK to fear the unknown, but still stride into it.

Iím sorry if my envy seeps into my advice, but in the years to come maybe youíll find it in your voice too, looking back.

Donít expect to live a life without regret Ė thatíd be no life at all. If you struggle and are daunted by bad luck or decisions, donít give up. The sole greatest determining factor in our success is our ability to constructively cope with failure.

If for some reason your life also turns to the place where mine now lies, a mid twenties kid who screwed up his higher education and is burdened by debt and the cost of living in his hometown, donít let that depress you either, itís certainly not an end by any measure.

By the time you get to that point, Iíll be writing a column about how I turned it around and returned to school while working a full-time job. But take it from someone who knows, youíd rather do it right the first time.

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