So I was going to take a nap, but then I saw something on the Internet that made me mad and of course I had to write about it.
It was this:
“There should be a two year period after high school where it is socially expected that kids not work or go to school or do anything but take road trips, read books, meet new people and take lots of pictures.”
I’m going to blatantly disagree with this. No, there should not.
Does that sort of future sound nice? Yes. Definitely. As a matter of fact that’s exactly what everyone should do with their free time – visit new places, meet new people, read, take pictures if you see something good enough – throw in playing the piano and wandering around by yourself and you have what I would love to spend two years doing.
As someone who has been out of high school for almost two years, I’d like to take a minute to explain what I’ve done in those two years, what all that I’ve done has done for me, and why I think society’s structure as it stands has actually helped me more than it has hurt me.
So let’s take a look at where and who I was in May 2013.
(As an aside: speech class this semester has completely ruined me.)
I was seventeen. I had never had a job (unless you count being editor of the school newspaper and mowing my grandparents’ lawn for six consecutive summers). I had never lived anywhere but my hometown and I drove past the hospital room where I was born on my way to school every day. Speaking of driving, I had had my driver’s license for only six months at that point and had bumped my parents’ white VW Passat (with something like 190,000 miles on it by the time it became “my” car) into the back of another girl’s car on our way out of the high school parking lot, crunching the front of it. I also didn’t know how to pump my own gas and cleverly wangled it so that every time my tank ran low, my dad had the car. I had never experienced the death of anyone close to me and I had never had to worry about a family member’s illness. I had been dumped by a drummer two months prior and was still unnecessarily bitter about it; I hung out most of the time with Hannah, Tanner and Derek; and I was looking forward to a summer of being a junior coach at my hometown swim team and attending my cousin’s wedding in Minnesota.
And now for where and who I am in May 2015.
I am nineteen. I’ve had five paying jobs in the last two years (swim coach, a student leadership position at the university dealing with freshman retention, counselor at Concordia Language Villages, piano player at a church in a nearby farm town, and student government elections commissioner). I don’t drive anything except for the occasional times this semester when my parents have let me borrow the big green GMC Yukon for a week or two at a time – and believe me, that thing’s a bit tricky in the snow. (And yes, I filled it by myself.) I live in a city three hours away from my family. I’ve messed up in my people-y choices a couple times since then but I’m on as good terms with Hannah and Derek now as I was then, and I’ve reconnected with Ronja, my partner in crimes of linguistic geekery, and I’ve met Photina, who, I like to joke, is part my second mom, part the older sister I never had, and part my fraternity brother. I’ve also bonded in small ways with an entire chapter of wonderful brothers in Alpha Kappa Psi, and I’ve met Sam, who makes my life beautiful in small ways – in the best ways. I survived my grandfather’s funeral and my father’s brush with a serious illness. I’ve learned to write papers, give speeches, write professional letters of thank-you and rejection that impress people much older than I, I’ve begun my fourth (Japanese) and technically fifth (Danish!) languages, I’ve learned to put on eyeliner and pump gas and make scrambled eggs, I’ve become a lifeguard and run a successful student government election and survived a summer in the Minnesota northwoods speaking only Swedish to a bunch of suburban American kids (including a four-year-old and a two-year-old). I’m looking forward to another summer doing the same thing over again, plus possibly spending a few weeks lifeguarding at Danish, and in the fall I AM STUDYING IN THE ONE AND ONLY SWEDEN, and, dear reader, you can bet your sweet ass I am going to love the heck out of it.
And with all that accomplished, I still listen to jazz and drink tea from a can and read L’Engle too much, but that’s beside the point.
The point is, would I have done half of that had I been turned loose to have fun for two years? No. No I would not. I would be a much shallower, more selfish person. I would not have learned to pump my own gas, put on my own eyeliner, edit my own papers and motivate myself. I would not have met a lot of people who matter to me now. I would not have learned to grieve by myself, nor would I have learned to pull myself out of the grieving hole when it was time. Nor would I be running full speed towards what is easily the most exciting adventure I have yet taken.
The closest thing I have to a life motto is the little paraphrase of the dedication of my book of e. e. cummings’ poetry: “I go my own quiet way.” I like this because, as I have mentioned before, it seems to me to describe “a quiet, unobtrusive individuality which does not feel the need to prove itself, but is instead simply on a path of its own.”
I have long maintained that making the choices that society expects you to does not make you mindless, a follower or a sheep. Making the choices that society expects you to for the same reasons everyone else does is what makes a person mindless, a follower or a sheep. I like to cite the case of my mother, who became a stay-at-home mom after eleven years teaching, not because she disliked the idea of women in the workplace, but because she wanted to be with her daughters, and who, after eleven years at home with us, decided to go back to teaching, not because she disliked the idea of women at home with their families, but because she wanted to teach German again. She has never let society control the reasons for which she makes her decisions.
In the same way, I did not go to college because society expects me, a young white female with good grades, to do so. I went to college because I wanted to for my own reasons – among them to meet new people, study in Sweden, become a badass number wizard, and be directed to the right books by the right people.
So, in a way, I guess this two year period has been my time to meet new people, explore, read, take pictures, play the piano, etc. But do you know what else?
I’m going to do that next year, too.
And during the two years after that when I come back to ISU.
And for the rest of my life.
Whoever wrote that paragraph on Twitter is missing the point.