Shake hands, toss the mortar board and hug your friends.
Walk, stumble, run, crawl or fall into adult life.
Your childhood is officially over.
Some of you will go to college. Some will head straight into the workforce and others who made adult decisions must care for another life before they have lived their own.
No matter the circumstance, your life now belongs to you, for better or worse. You will experience both.
Some of you might recoil or reject the idea and attempt to preserve youth by remaining in the comfort of your childhood home.
You are not a child though, simply a scared adult wearing your kid clothing and behaving childishly.
Gone are the hallways that provided a microcosm of society containing people from varying social and economic backgrounds.
Your daily routine will begin to determine where you land in life.
After a while, you will become who you hang with.
I will share some unsolicited advice, for those who care to read it.
Wherever You Are — Be There
Freedom is yours now. In college, nobody's watching. Mom, dad, grandma or whoever, will probably not be waking you up for school. With freedom comes responsibility.
Your professors don't care if you text, talk or even attend their classes. They also don't care if you fail, especially since they've probably made note of your behavior. They will likely share their thoughts with other professors about your obvious immaturity and lack of commitment.
You may follow in your parents' footsteps, attend the same school, chase the same major and plan your own life based on your parents' wishes. This is fine as long as you are truly fulfilling your own wishes, too.
If you dive directly into the workforce, your bosses don't care if you text, talk, act a fool or even show up. They will likely share their thoughts with other employers about your obvious immaturity and lack of commitment. You will lose your job and your credibility in the community.
If you decide not to work or go to school, remember, nothing is free. You will pay for this choice with your self-worth. You will not achieve freedom, as you will be dependent on others for your basic needs to be met.
Respect people, don't idolize them.
Learn to laugh at yourself. Do not laugh at the expense of others.
Be kind. Forgive.
Revel in others joy, not in their pain, despair or misfortune.
Avoid the words "never" and "always" — or put whipped cream on them, because you will have to eat them later.
Be honest. Say what you mean. Mean what you say, but don't say it mean.
Be your own toughest critic — not your own worst enemy.
Kill your green monster. Jealousy and envy destroy.
Refrain from narcissistic behavior. Saying "I would do this" or "I wouldn't do that" only addresses situations from your own limited life experiences. Listen and learn. Ask questions.
Don't gossip. It is a serious character flaw. If others gossip about you, don't take it personally. If they're talking about you they're leaving someone else alone.
Don't be afraid to play the fool — everybody does at some point. Learn to do it eloquently. Don't worry, you'll get lots of practice.
Accommodate your growing pains by learning to stretch and bend and acknowledge your feelings of loneliness, sadness, homesickness and confusion. Embrace those feelings. Nobody is happy all the time.
Avoid generalizations. Treat each person as an individual.
Leave An Open Door Behind You
Keep your credit clean. You need good credit to rent or buy a place to live, turn on utilities or buy a vehicle. Many employers require good credit before hiring you. Having good credit is like giving your word.
It is a reflection of your character. Good credit is a sign of an organized, responsible, ethical and trustworthy person.
Give two-week's notice to employers when vacating a position.
Take responsibility for your own actions. Do not make excuses, whine or blame others.
Handle yourself publicly and professionally with the grace of an adult, not the grief of a child.
If you lose your cool, apologize promptly.
Past, Present, Future
It is true that if you're very careful, nothing good or bad will ever happen to you. Take chances, trust your instincts. Foster your talents and joys.
Preserve your past, but don't live in it.
Make a plan for your future or you could become a part of someone else's plan.
Travel to 10 new places.
Stare down your fears and slay those dragons.
Picture the life you want and list the needed steps that will get you there.
Read, learn a language, sing and laugh. Time will pass whether you live your dreams or not.
Make no mistake, you will learn regardless of the path you take. If you realize you've unwittingly wandered down a dead end road, all you have to do is turn around and retrace the steps that brought you there.
"The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can't be any large-scale revolution until there's a personal revolution, on an individual level. It's got to happen inside first." -- Jim Morrison