The Game Changer: 6 “Must-Have” Life Lessons to Give To Your Graduate

By Debby Shulman

There are times when I love getting up early because I need to drive my kids to school. When there isn’t a car available, I am up and ready to go … even if it means I drive them in flannels and slippers; my coffee mug securely in one hand. I love this because I can head east on School Drive, behind the high school, and look out at the athletic fields. I can see the pool, the theater and the stadium. Often the fog is misting over the yards and yards of baseball fields, and I always comment to my kids that it is one of my favorite sights. As we approach graduation and the insanity of late May, I am enjoying this ride even more.

High school can be a blessing for some, a traumatic time for others. I have been teaching long enough to know that it is never the same for any teen and the decisions and choices they make can have lasting effects.

We imagine and fantasize about what their experiences will bring often based on what our own high school life was like. Perhaps it’s an unfair projection — but for those of us who truly loved high school, it’s hard not to feel that surge of excitement as our kids participate and enjoy the same things that we loved as teenagers. There are those kids who break out and discover themselves through the beauty of a great coach, an inspiring teacher, a sensitive administrator. There are those who lose their way, give up hope and count down the days until they’re finished. For us, just watching how they figure it out is our story too; save for the hoarse voices from shouting matches, the knock-down drag out fights about doing the right thing, studying more, working as hard as they can.  I know only too well that my son heard me only half of the time, but we both remember the exhaustion of those emotional moments … and I am not afraid to admit it.

But now, with college around the corner, the game changes. Granted, he worked hard to get himself into the college he wanted, but he has no idea of how much harder it is going to be to stay there. His older brother just smiles and nods, so happy for his little brother and knowing full well what’s coming next fall.  And it’s okay because he is finally ready. He has finished AP exams, his room is a complete disaster of old folders, books, notecards, smelly socks, choir clothes and play posters. He rolls in at night having done nothing but spending yet another evening hanging with friends, grabbing McDonald’s at 11 p.m. on a school night because he can, and relishing in the final moments of what has turned out to be, one of the most wonderful times in his life.

Leaving us, the security of his friends and school is a journey. For those who have graduating seniors, the act of holding on for us feels pretty intense.

Whether it’s the first to leave or the last, this time marks a milestone in our lives as parents. Our roles begin to change rather quickly and we become parental confidants and sounding boards. Questions no longer start with, “Can I …” but rather, “What do you think about …?”

As we all plan for orientations at the schools our teens will be attending, there is a thrilling sense of adventure – and hope, and fear, and anxiety too.

I feel that inside, but I have the luxury of knowing that this remarkable time marks the sentimental moment in which we see our hard work come to fruition.

Of all the life lessons they will take with to college, there are few that I have been adamant about over the years. The funny thing is, they are not so out-of-the-ordinary, but they are a necessity when it comes to dealing with people, stress and conflict when faced with the prospect of handling it “all” on their own:

Treat people with respect at all times. You may not like someone, but to be anything other than respectful reduces you to what they are. 

Tell the truth.  Screwing up is part of life and we learn from it every day.  When you’ve made a mistake, big or small, take the initiative to make it as right as you can by being honest about what you have done.

Stop interrupting. What you have to say is just as important as the person you are listening to, but hear what they are saying so that your response is thoughtful.

Look around you and clean up your own mess – literally and figuratively.  For those kids having had no experience away from home, living with someone else can be an adjustment.  Do not expect anyone else to clean up behind you.  Learn what your roommate appreciates, and try to do your best to be accommodating.

Think before you act … always.  Every action has a reaction and thoughtless behaviors and dangerous choices can result in lifetime of heartache.  Do not throw up on your roommate’s bed, do not put yourself in a compromising position because you were too out of it to make the right choice … and never, ever, photograph those mistakes that you will inevitably make. 

Don’t call your mother if you are drunk.

I listen at the top of the stairs as he talks quietly with friends who have come over to hang. For sure they feel the similar sadness of leaving high school – they know they are leaving the safe comfort of the known and must embrace the enormity of the unknown. As I listen (eavesdrop?) I realize how sad I am. I have professed to this sadness and while other parents may be outrageously excited, and of course I am, I am simply too blown away by the prospect of having two children in college. I am going to miss my son’s warm, scruffy face in the morning, I am going to miss his smell (which is soft and sweet and a little like waffles) I am going to miss his presence in my kitchen and I am going to miss the nightly concerts that he belts out of the shower. The quiet that my poor daughter will have to endure is going to seem vacant and lonely.

So, I am holding on for as long as I can. Grabbing a hug, a kiss, anything I can get.  I am bribing his presence at home with meals, baked goods and junk food.

I think about the adventures this boy has had and how I sobbed to my pediatrician that I could never have a third child because he absolutely wore me out. I chased, I held, I burped, I cried, I laughed and I worried. Oh my God … did I worry about this boy. But trust me when I admit that pain has no memory. It’s all a blur from where I stand … like the view from the car as I approach this wonderful school, watching the sunrise over the front of the building and seeing the football team go at it at 7 a.m.

These drives give me the extra few minutes I need to have just a few more moments with him during the day.  Silently, we pull up to school and he jumps out. He waits patiently for his little sister to gather her belongings from the back seat and make her way around the car so they can walk in together. I watch them go in side by side.

My heart is full.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare:  Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 





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