Dear Class of X:
Seeing you sitting here before me, makes me realize that I should get real and junk all the pop psych platitudes that you will undoubtedly hear from your valedictorian. For a lot of you, high school was anything but the "best four years of your life." But it’s the smaller subset, I wish to address. For these students, high school was hell on earth, the difference being that the fire was figurative and the chains were invisible.
These students are not the ones who spent their free time engrossed in fifty plus extracurriculars such as sports, the debate team, or student government. They chose not to because the prospect of spending even more time in the company of people who shunned them was unbearable. They chose not to because the prospect of trying to interact with people who would swallow nails rather than act as if they had anything in common was not something worth expending energy on. It was not that they had no worthy contributions to offer or leadership skills. It was not that they had no interest whatsoever in the entire range of activities offered. But day after day of pretending not to care wears you down. Those who logged time at such activities may have found a few other companions, or just consoled themselves with the fact that it would look good on their college application.
These students may or may not have excelled academically. But the fact that they are about to stride across the stage with their classmates is nothing short of heroic. Adults in the audience, raise your hands if you would willingly attend high school again. Ah, very few hands, I see. What a surprise. As unbearable as it was, though, did you have friends? During unhappy times, did you have someone to talk with on the phone or spend time with on the weekends? If you did, take a moment and ask yourself how you would have survived solo.
Of course, this speech has a personal basis: I was one of those students. I developed depression early on in high school and attempted suicide. I also started cutting myself and tuning out, although never to the extent that my grades suffered. Because my parents and other administrators were clueless, I spent four years struggling not to let the pain of ostracism and harassment extinguish me. I did not attend either of my proms. I did not bother to vote in elections because I hated all the candidates equally. I spent English class field trips staring out the bus window. The only good part - besides the play - was that we could choose where we ate lunch, making it easy to find some obscure diner where the fact that I was a loser would not be noticed.
After my graduation, I did not bounce around crying and giggling with a group of camera-happy friends. Instead I went home. In the fall, I went to college, where things got better. And here is a myth. It’s true that you can reinvent yourself in college. But you can’t shove the pain down and ignore it for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work that way. Human beings were not designed to shrug off four years of pariahhood. Whether you get therapy or not, your former experiences are going to shape how you act around people long after you take your diploma. What you went through was traumatic. And trauma needs to eventually be addressed.
Sorry to get so preachy. Congratulations for making it this far. Double congratulations if you had no adult support during your ordeal. Get your diploma. Then go have a drink. It’s up to you how to heal. But don’t put it off for too long.
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