My husband’s niece graduated from high school last weekend. I suppose, she is also *my* niece, as she does now call me “Aunt Jen.” I remember she and her younger sister, after the wedding ceremony, both giving me big hugs and calling me “Aunt Jen,” which was incredibly heartwarming. Even still, it’s odd. My husband has a younger brother who is two years younger than him, but his older brother and two older sisters are 12, 14, and 15 years older, respectively, meaning their kids are much older. We took his (OUR) nephew, 22, to the Long Island vineyards yesterday. I now have a nephew who is old enough to legally drink alcohol.
Anyway, this is not about our nephew. Or, really, even about our niece, though it is inspired by her. David wrote a few weeks ago about Rites de Passage, and this somewhat goes in that direction. I’ve had a lot of changes this year myself, getting married being the most significant though certainly not the only one. Becoming, feeling like a grown-up is something that happens gradually, and doesn’t just suddenly happen when you wake up one morning.
However, if you were to place adulthood on a single, specific day, I think the most appropriate day is high school graduation. It’s more appropriate than turning 18, as for many 18-year-olds they are still in their parents’ houses attending high school. Or, if you’re like me and have a fall birthday, 18 is somewhat anticlimactic as you’ve already been away from home for a couple of months. It’s definitely more appropriate than college graduation, in part because not everyone goes to college, and those that do are not always on a traditional schedule. Perhaps you could say getting your own place, paid for yourself and separate from your parents is more appropriate, but then again I look at my mother, who lived with my grandparents until she was 38, so she could give me a stable household, and I don’t think someone would think her not an adult for making that choice – on the contrary, in fact.
I realize that not everyone necessarily graduates from high school, however I will state that in 2011, in one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world, there is absolutely no excuse for the fact that our high school graduation rates are not 100%. None. On the other hand, college isn’t for everyone, and I actually think that the percentage of graduating seniors going on to college directly from high school is too high, that college is presented to young people as an “all-or-nothing,” “now-or-never” scenario, and by doing this we’re doing our children an extreme disservice. (This also holds true for pressuring college students to declare a major right away.) Forget these ridiculous test scores and meaningless deliverables, and let’s start educating our youth, please and thank you.
I remember my mother, shortly after graduation, telling me that I was now an “adult,” and that I no longer had to ask her permission to do things, but, she requested that when I was staying with her – and she emphasized that her door would always be open to me – I tell her what I was doing, so that she didn’t worry. Not to ask for permission or seek her approval, but simply as a courtesy. Looking back, this was an incredibly enlightened viewpoint, even if in practice it was a lot bumpier than in theory. It is very easy, I imagine, for parents to say they will let their now-adult children make their own decisions and then subsequently deal with the consequences, but actually doing it, I am sure, is far more difficult.
So, with that, I welcome this year’s high school graduates into adulthood. You have a long road ahead of you, but I promise it is a rewarding and interesting road. In many ways, it’s much harder than you can imagine, but in many others it is not as overwhelming as it seems.