A Letter to my Younger Sister Graduating High School

Kristen—

YOU DID IT!!! I can’t believe my baby sister is finally graduating from high school! Congratulations! You should be incredibly proud of yourself for how far you’ve come and how much you’ve accomplished — I know I am. How you managed to juggle a job and your many band extracurricular activities; plus volunteer work, a social life and a serious relationship on top of all of your studies is beyond me. You are one of the busiest, hardest-working and most passionate individuals that I know (besides me, of course) and I have so much admiration for you and all that you set out to do. It is a big deal! It’s not fair to you that the year that is supposed to be your year is falling in the middle of a global pandemic. There are so many things and events that I know you were looking forward to that you’ve had to sacrifice for the health and safety of yourself and others — and know that that’s not your fault — but I am so glad you're getting a commencement ceremony because you deserve to have your achievements noticed and praised in front of everybody! I wish I could be there to cheer you on as you walk across that stage in person, but nevertheless, I hope it's still the most memorable day for you, and I cannot wait to party afterward!

It wouldn’t be a graduation letter if I didn’t offer you some pieces of advice before you start this next chapter of your life. It wasn’t too long ago that I was in your shoes and I’ve learned and grown a lot in that short amount of time. I’m sure you will receive many words of guidance from your elders during this time, but just remember that no one can control you or tell you what to do. My first piece of advice for you is, whether you choose to follow one's advice given to you or not (even mine), at the end of the day, you must make your own decisions and realize that you are responsible and accountable for your own life, no one else’s.

I dug out my old letters that I received back when I graduated from high school to look for inspiration for what I wanted to say to you. First of all, I couldn’t believe how fast time had flown by since then, but also, it made me very emotional reading words from family and old friends that I am not as close to as I used to be. You already know that obviously sometimes people come and go in life and sometimes it hurts but it's for the best. People are temporary, we can’t get too attached, especially if they only bring you down. My second piece of advice for you is to never let anybody guilt-trip you, gaslight you or make you feel bad for doing what is best for you. Never let anybody walk all over you, or make you feel small or weak, or drain you of your happiness. Remember that family isn’t always blood and blood isn’t always family. Keep good ones close, and that includes me.

In the wise words of Daniel Zuko, whereupon being asked if it’s the end of his time with Sandra Olson at the beginning of Grease (1978), he responds, “Of course not! It’s only the beginning!” Right now, you may feel as if everything is coming to an end on May 26th, 2021 as your high school career comes to a close — and that may be true for some things, including some friendships, and routine and life as you’ve comfortably come to know it — but it's also the beginning of many more things, like independence and more school! My third piece of advice for you is that change is good. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be so many quotes to remind us about that throughout pop culture! (“Change is nature.” -Remy, Ratatouille (2007), “The only thing that doesn’t change in life is that things change.” -Eric Cartman, South Park). I’m friends with a lot of “old people,” as you refer to them, and I’ve found that one of the biggest things that defines a mature, stable, successful adult from others is their adaptability and flexibility to change. Embrace it, accept it and you will do fine!

You're going to be moving away from home soon. That’s a huge step. When I moved out of the house, I left everything and everybody I knew and loved over an hour away on the other side of the state and it was rough. I didn’t know anybody in the area or at the school. I had to stop performing in Rocky Horror. All of my school friends went off to different schools or dropped contact entirely. Mackenzie was here but she already had her own circle and I wasn’t connecting to the people I did eventually meet as well as I had hoped (and I really didn’t until a few months ago when I found my people and started playing D&D with my roommates and our neighbors). Not to mention, this was the start of the pandemic, so whenever I visited home, I didn’t feel any less miserable and alone there either. I didn’t tell anybody but being so far away from my happiness sent me into a long, deep, almost uncontrollable depression and caused a lot of identity issues in me. I had been so used to the same routine, the same city, seeing the same students' and teachers' faces from kindergarten to 12th grade. Who was I after I left all that? For the first time in my life, it was just me, my room and my thoughts — and all I could do was force myself to sleep the days away. My fourth piece of advice to you is not to do that. Don’t think like that. Know you are not, nor will you ever be, alone — no matter how far you are physically. You are loved and I know Mom and Dad will tell you that you will always be welcome in their house no matter what. You're also so resilient and strong; I have no doubt you will easily adapt to independent living and college life, but if you ever feel down and you need somebody, don’t be afraid to ask for help and know that I am only a call away!

I hope this letter is one that you keep and look back on occasionally even after your college career is over. Before I wrap it up, I want to leave you with my final, generic pieces of advice: Grab college by the balls and make the most of your time there! Stay on top of your schoolwork! Don’t spend your money frivolously! Do not let anyone pressure you into doing or trying anything you’re not comfortable with or do not want to do. At the same time, don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things you wouldn’t normally do! Make friends! Join clubs! Be safe, but have fun! Know that college isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and it’s okay to change your mind until you find your niche. Also know that you're talented and are not bound or pressured into having one specific end goal that you must strive to follow for the rest of your life. Gain as much experience in as many subjects you're passionate about and NETWORK!!! Stand up for what you believe in! Be friendly! Be humble! Share! Brush your teeth! Eat your vegetables! Get tested for STIs regularly! Respect is earned, not given. Take advantage of free stuff/discounts you can get with your college ID! Call your parents often and don’t give them a hard time. Spend as much time with them as you can before and after you leave their nest. Be nice to your sister; she’s your best friend. Know that you are loved by so many people and we are proud of you and are in your corner cheering you on. And if Max Goof’s dad bursts into your first college class and sits next to you wearing an afro wig and bell bottoms, run.

I love you. Go Bulls!

Your sister,

Emily