In just a few days I’ll be making the journey home to Oregon to attend my brother’s high school graduation. While I’ve decided to stick around for another lovely summer in Rochester, I’m lucky enough to have a job that’s given me a few days off to celebrate this important milestone in my little bro’s life. As I prepare for my trip, I can’t help thinking about my own high school graduation and the summer that followed. Those months leading up to my first year of college were full of nervous anticipation and torturous excitement about moving to Rochester, but they were also some of the best days of my high school years. Here’s why:
I didn’t stress about school.
After four years of AP classes, standardized tests, and anxiety about finding, getting into, and paying for the right college, I had nothing left to worry about it. My immediate future was set. I knew where I was going and I knew it was the right place for me. So with 12+ years of hard work under my belt and an exciting and challenging future to look forward to, I decided it was time for a break. So I set aside academics for the summer and decided to make the most of my last few months at home.
Over the course of the summer, I ended up doing a lot. I took advantage of the outdoorsman’s wonderland that is Central Oregon as much as I could. I hiked, kayaked, rafted, and went running on the trails behind my home as frequently as the heat would allow. I made a point to take part in community activities—forming a Relay for Life team with my friends and participating in the annual Fourth of July and County Fair festivities. I even went on a few special adventures, including a family vacation to the North Carolina coast and a John Mayer concert with one of my best friends and our moms.
With the pressure of figuring out college lifted and the concern about finding resume-building employment not yet a major concern, I was able to truly savor my last summer as a “kid.” And looking back three years out, I’m pleased with my decision to do so.
I sampled independence.
By the time we graduated high school, my friends and I had never really done much without our parents. Maybe we were too young or maybe we were just too busy, but either way, we’d never taken a trip by ourselves that wasn’t just for the day and close to home. But now that we were graduates and 18 (or close to it), we thought it was about time to change that. So at the beginning of the summer we began to plan a camping trip.
We started out with our core group of eight with plans for a two-night adventure, but after it was all said and done only four of us were available and we only camped for a single night. Regardless, it ended up being the best camping trip I’ve ever taken. Sure, we drove nearly two hours into the mountains and then spent several more hours going from campground to campground searching for an open site, and sure, the site that we did find was located next to a reservoir full of toxic algae, but it was all part of the fun of figuring things out for ourselves. That night we started our own fire, cooked our own food, and even went to bed at a reasonable hour. The next morning we went on a short hike then rented a kayak and a canoe at a nearby lake for some afternoon fun on the water.
Looking back, nothing about our trip was really all that remarkable. We did what most people do when they go camping. What was so thrilling was that we were on our own doing things our way. Our camping trip was a small taste of the semi-adulthood we would be embracing as college students in the fall. It gave us a glimpse at the new lives we would soon be leading while also serving as a commemoration of our friendship and celebration of all we’d been through together. Ultimately, our camping adventure was a wonderful way to ease into the transition we were about to make when we all headed off to different schools in August.
I took my time saying goodbye to the people and places that mattered.
While my summer before college was full of wonderful experiences, there were also many difficult goodbyes along the way. While I knew I would be back to visit, I also recognized that my relationship to my hometown would never really be the same again. As a rather sentimental individual, I wanted to make sure I took the necessary time to say farewell the right way. This translated into multiple goodbye lunches with my friends, several long solo walks with my dogs, and a couple weeks of carefully going through everything I owned to sort out what I wanted to keep in storage, what I wanted to take to college, and what I could let go of. The nostalgia was very real, particularly during the last activity. I found old pictures of myself on my first day of kindergarten, get-well cards from my sixth-grade classmates from the time I got appendicitis, and all sorts of other mementos documenting my first 18 years on earth.
But while boxing up these keepsakes and hugging my friends goodbye was certainly sad, there was also something exhilarating about preparing to start over. I was on the brink of a new chapter in my life and as a result, everything about my summer felt almost ritualistic—as if I was performing all the necessary steps needed to successfully move on. Even so, I truly did appreciate the chance to spend one last summer in my hometown. I felt (and still feel) so very lucky to have grown up where I did and having the chance to really take it all in right at the end of my childhood was truly extraordinary.
So as I head home to watch my brother receive his diploma and begin his final summer before college, I hope to impart some wisdom and convince him to relish the limited time he has left. Maybe I’ll even make him read this post.