Today I am driving back to my hometown for my brother’s high school graduation. This seems so unreal to me. How did my little brother grow up so fast? As I think about my own high school experience and who I was as an individual back when I was in his shoes, I am overwhelmed by just how much I have changed. On a very literal level, I don’t even have the same last name. Even though who I am today is starkly different than the girl I was when I proudly walked across the stage on my 18th birthday wearing my cap and gown, it is important that I remember where I came from and the experiences that have transformed me. I think that many graduates fall into a trap where they believe that they should cut ties with their childhood lives. Rather than turning the page for a new chapter in their life story, they rip out the old pages and start “fresh”.
What about the binding of the book?
Each time we try to deny ourselves or the past, we slowly eat away the strength of what binds our sense of self: our unique human experience. I think it is important to clarify that our human experience does not define who we are; we are defined by how we choose to interpret and react to it. In this, a person who struggles in poverty need not be defined by financial status. Instead, they may be defined by determination and compassion if they fight for their happiness and are kind to others.
There are two inherently different methods of interpreting our experiences, linear and cyclic. Most of Western culture, including the United States, tends to operate on the linear model. Time is segmented into the past, present, and future such that progress is determined by moving forward and becoming something greater than before. In the linear model, life can be seen as a race against time; you must accomplish your dreams and be successful before time runs out. In contrast, many Eastern cultures tend to see time more as a cycle of growth and rebirth. The race against the clock doesn’t translate to this model as there is no final endpoint of time. Instead of there being separate eras of experiences, all experiences affect each other and may reappear in importance throughout the cycle of life. Neither method is inherently right or wrong, but I think each bears positive insights such that a combination of both methods promotes a healthy perspective of the self. That way, you can harness all of the following:
Linear-Not dwelling on past: You are not defined by your experiences, so use that angst to fuel your fire to be the best version of yourself in the present and future. In contrast, if life now doesn’t seem as good as the years gone by, don’t give up. Different does not always have to mean worse, so actively search for transformation.
Cyclic-Not forgetting where you came from: Our sense of self is uniquely defined by every moment of our existence. To block out even a second would be to deny yourself of the potential to learn and grow as an individual whether the time be good or bad.
Linear-Making the most of the time you have: Life is precious, and so are you. Don’t wish away your life or pretend to be someone other than what your heart silently sings to be.
Cyclic- Always respecting others: Already in my short 20 (almost 21!) years, I have seen people come in and out of my life in unexpected ways. You never know if that person you bullied in high school will one day be your boss, or if the person who ignored may be the only one able to help you out when you are in need.
As I mentally prepare to watch hundreds of high school graduates walk across the stage into the rest of their lives, I can only hope that they remember what the moment felt like and the person they were in that flowing blue gown. I can only hope that they enter this new chapter of their lives strengthened by the knowledge that is found in the binding. I want them to be able to look back years later, like I am now, and see just how far they have come. I wish this especially for my little brother. He is bursting with passion and potential. It time for him to flip the tassel, turn the page, and be free.