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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
From caps and gowns to parties and planning for the future, this is a special time for young people graduating from high school or college. Graduation is a culmination of years of academic rigor, extracurricular activities, social development and personal growth. It also is a time in which graduates cross at least one of several metaphorical thresholds toward adulthood. And this transition period can sometimes bring with it a great amount of stress and anxiety.
There can be several reasons behind this additional stress. All the academic, extracurricular and social pressures that have existed and perhaps intensified in recent months. The realization that years of time, energy, effort, excitement and anticipation have culminated in a seemingly singular moment that has now come and gone. The loss of a social identity and close friendships formed throughout highly formative years. Leaving a structured support system within a familiar daily environment. The prospect of moving out of one’s childhood home and away from family. Complex decisions around things like going to college, getting a job, traveling or any number of other possibilities.
In addition, today’s generation of graduates are making the transition during a unique combination of circumstances. An ongoing pandemic, shifts in the social fabric of society, intense political division, geopolitical unrest, social media’s increasing dominance and more.
With all of this culminating in a walk across a stage toward the unknown of the future, it’s easy to understand why graduates may be facing additional mental health challenges. However, there exists an important element of hope opposite the challenges. And in my commencement speaker audition, I’d like to address the graduates directly …
First and foremost, pause and relish in your achievement, if at least for a moment. Too often we take graduation for granted. But you know how much went into this accomplishment for you personally. There were inevitably ups and downs, hopefully more of the former. Many of these experiences likely helped shape you and your beliefs. In the end, you deserve to feel pride in what you’ve accomplished through whatever adversity you’ve faced.
As you look forward to creating your future, remember a few important things. There’s no such thing as perfect. At one point in time, the brightest minds on earth were convinced the world was flat. The only reason we learned differently was because a few brave people were willing to wonder, ask questions and challenge the status quo. Hold onto your convictions tightly, but don’t be afraid to not have all the answers, don’t be stubborn enough to believe that what you know is always right or too quick to think others are wrong even when their beliefs are fundamentally opposite of yours.
And as you go through life, hopefully discovering your passions, following your dreams and finding people you care for and that care for you, there’s two old sayings that might be worth carrying with you. First, everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about. Have compassion for all. Second, people won’t necessarily remember what you did — this includes your GPA or numbers at work, your athletic performance or awards that you have won — but they will remember how you made them feel.
It’s perhaps worth applying the same underlying messages to yourself. Regardless of what paths you choose to take, don’t forget to prioritize your own mental health. Practice self-care, find mindfulness activities that work for you, talk with a therapist. Of the endless possibilities along your journey, you may very well face additional adversity, but the most important outcome is that you always retain hope and show kindness for yourself, as well.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.