As the last days go by, I want you to do 6 things.
College applications are done. Senior dues are paid. Prom is here. "Senioritis" is in full affect. You’re done with high school; time to celebrate! Let me first say: “Congratulations. You deserve to celebrate and you have achieved a great milestone in life thus far. But guess what? You’re not done. The next two months will fly by fast and fall will be here before you know it.”
I remember my senior year. I worked my tail off. I'll say that again, "I worked my tail off." That felt good to say. From the first day, waking up to the 6:30 alarm to get through security on time to last moments and receiving my gold cords, I worked hard. I had a pretty good summer. I got an internship at a law firm, work on my small startup (wonder what that might be) and spent four days on the West Coast to show them who the real champs were when it comes to basketball! I want you to do something that I hadn’t done until last summer- reflect. This is the only time where you'll have the chance to enjoy the privileges of being a high school student- not have to worry about the stress that comes with being a young adult, and value the time you’ll share with loved ones. You will indeed find these are the priceless moments that will never be repeated.
Some of you will be heading to college and some of you will be doing other things in the fall. No matter what you do from this point on, it will be on your own two feet that you will learn to stand, stay steady, put your face to the wind of challenge, spread your wings and soar. That choice is up to you now. It will not be easy. If I were to share a few caveats of my last year of high school to pass on to you here’s what I would offer. I come from a position of privilege- no, not of money or social status. My riches and my voice are deeply ingrained and rooted in hard work and dedication. Attending college is a privilege that proves that hard work is rewarded. Be prepared beyond just being ready. Be prepared to expand your knowledge, accept critism, learn from those who lead without fear or trepidation so that when the torch is passed to you, you are on pace. Finally, as you are gearing up to take flight, stay grounded in humility, it provides the softest landing as we learn from our successes and failures.
Here are few more of my thoughts as you begin your journey…
Never forget nor hide where you come from. You should never be ashamed of "your block." In fact, I challenge you to embrace it. Some of you will be going places where there'll be people who won't look like you and come from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. There may be individuals that look like you but don't share your particular "struggle.” If you’re going to the workforce or taking a gap year, or just doing something different, this still applies for you. Always acknowledge the "village" that raised and molded you to be the individual that you're today. I'm a proud first-generation college student who received a diploma from a public inner-city school. I wouldn’t be the individual that I am today, I wouldn’t have been able to do everything that I have done thus far if it wasn't for my family, school, and community.
Authenticity is key. No matter where you land, you should always be you. The first company that I help start at the age of 14, The Nerd Culture has the philosophy that “Squares Don’t Fit Into Circles” and that is so true. At times we may alter parts of ourselves to fit in, but what I found most rewarding, being you, is the coolest thing in life. People around you will also notice this characteristic and be easily turned off if they're being presented with a show. This is the only time where a show isn't good. No matter if it's good or not, at some point it will end.
Find and develop your voice. There will be times when you'll speak alone, have to stand up for what’s right, make people uncomfortable. There's been plenty of times, where I've spoken and stood up for things I believed in and thought was right and no one else did. Here again I will state my position of privilege due to the fact my campus is centered upon activism. Despite that, being an up-stander is one the best qualities to have and many will notice this and perhaps recognize you for it.
Set out time to serve. No one will be counting this as your community service to graduate. Over the course of my life, I've served a lot of people and more recently, highlighted it. You may have discovered it on my social media accounts (I don’t do this for recognition or "the number of likes", but rather as a mechanism to encourage and motivate others to do the same or perhaps more). What I've realized is that no matter how much wealth you have, there's always someone that has less resources than you. And I think we fail to realize this due to the structure of our society.
“What you do today will be a reflection of your tomorrow" is one of the best lessons I've learned from my mother at a young age. I can't thank her enough. While this may apply for different things, I constantly refer back to this, reflect, and ask myself, "What am I doing for others? and will this reflect a good future?" Growing up, no matter how much or little we had, my family always made room for someone. More recently, we've started a tradition. Every Sunday, we provide food and clothing to men, women, and children that are in need. Because I “took my talents” to Connecticut, my participation has been limited. But, I spend at least two and a half hours out of the week, assisting young men of color, whom are incarcerated minutes away from me, earn credits to receive their diploma.
What I've found the most rewarding of service is not receiving an award but a simple, "thank you" from those I've helped. Just those two words give me the greatest satisfaction. This leads me to my next piece of advice: be compassionate and express your gratitude. I've been told from my friends and loved ones, my greatest strength is compassion towards others and the way I express my gratitude. When you go do great things in this world, and trust me you will, remember: we all share the same feelings and have the same goal in life. We all get happy, sad, excited, and frustrated. Just think, if we all show a little more compassion and gratitude along the way, don't you think the world would be a better place? (Sounds cliche but it’s true.)
Woah, you've read ten paragraphs, that's one thousand, twenty-nine words. You're already prepared for what's ahead of you! Lastly, I want you to do something no one has ever told you, well at least not from me yet in this article: fail, learn, fail again, and guess what...learn.You will fail and make mistakes. Everyone fails and will make mistakes, including you. While I'm not trying to diminish your ability here, I just want you to realize what we all tend to hide and fail to understand life is a big puzzle. There will be times which a particular piece, that you just know is right, just doesn't fit. Just leave the piece aside, figure out where it needs to go, and the strategy you"ll use to get there. Many may not believe me but, I have failed multiple times and will continue to. What I've done, however and will continue to do, is recognize what went wrong, what I need to learn, and how I can move on. So when you fail, I want you to recognize what you did wrong, what you need to learn, and what's required to move forward.
You've read enough. It's time to celebrate and sleep past eight. Remember your community, authenticity is key, your voice is ready to be heard, people need your assistance, compassion and gratitude is encouraged, and to fail, learn, fail again, and... You know it! Good luck.