Everything I Wish I Knew Before High School Graduation

High school graduation can be a scary time.

Up to this point, you've literally spent your whole life in school, surrounded by people you know and protected from all the "adult" problems that plague the outside world.

It can start to feel like everything's going to change, but graduating high school really isn't as frightening as it might initially feel.

Rachel From Glee at Graduation

(Glee via FOX)

I actually enjoyed my high school experience, so when graduation came, I had so many worries and fears about life after school that I wasn't able to fully enjoy the last few weeks of my high school experience. In the end, most of my fears were totally unfounded, and I wasted my time stressing out for literally no reason.

In an effort to save yourself from the overwhelming stress that I felt about leaving high school, keep scrolling to see everything I wish I knew before high school graduation.

Everything Doesn't Change in an Instant

Honestly, the emotional element of high school graduation is totally blown out of proportion. The process of saying goodbye to your classmates and mourning the end of your high school years is important, but with everyone's focus on leaving, it can start to feel like your whole life is going to change the second you walk across that stage.

That's certainly how I felt. I remember thinking that I had to get all my emotions out, tell my friends exactly how I felt and have my future totally situated before I stepped up to receive my diploma. In reality, however, things don't change instantaneously.

I felt exactly the same as I walked off the stage as I did when I walked on. There was no magical moment that transformed me into a fully functioning adult. I spent the rest of the summer in my parents' house, seeing all my same friends and doing the same activities we'd done every summer before that. Change happened more gradually, with the culminating moment arriving at the end of the summer when I packed up for college. By that time, I had three full months to gently say my goodbyes and adjust my mindset, rather than a single instance that changed everything.

Graduation probably won't make you feel very different about the state of your life. You'll likely feel emotional and there are definitely things that will happen "for the last time"—like rummaging through your locker for books or sitting at your favorite lunch table—but you'll still maintain your friendships, your love for your town and your overall school spirit (or lack of it).

Don't feel like you have to force all your emotions out just for the sake of graduation. Let yourself feel things as they come—and if you don't really feel anything, that's okay, too. Everyone processes things differently, and some of us aren't wired to have a "moment." Stressing out about how you feel will take you out of just enjoying the day, which is what you really should be focusing on during graduation.

Gabriella and Sharpay at Graduation

(High School Musical 3: Senior Year via Walt Disney Pictures)


You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured Out

By the time graduation rolls around, there's a general mindset that you should have a pretty solid plan for your future. Whether you've decided to attend college, join the work force or take a year off to figure things out, it's likely you'll be hounded with questions about what direction your life is taking.

The thing is, you don't have to have it all figured out. I always knew I'd attend college, and I chose a school that I thought I would like, but that was based off an hour at a campus roughly 1,000 miles from my family and the places I was comfortable with. What's more, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. Declaring a college major was a struggle, and I ended up choosing a broad area of study that would give me a little more time to figure it out. Still, I had no idea that I wanted to be a writer until midway through my last semester of college—and I have many friends who still aren't sure about what they want to do.

The world is structured in such a way that you have to make some pretty life-altering decisions pretty early in life. I'm not recommending that you live in your parents' house for the next 20 years, but it's okay if you're not sure about what you want to do yet. It's better to take time and find something that you really love, rather than rushing into a decision and realizing later that you regret it.

Suite Life on Deck Graduation

(Suite Life on Deck via Disney Channel)


It's Okay to Make It About You

If you're like me, you're super uncomfortable with drawing attention to yourself. I was really wary of having a graduation party, the pictures made me uneasy and I shied away from anyone who wanted to congratulate me about "my accomplishment."

But looking back on it, I wish I let people make a bigger deal about it. Because it is an accomplishment. High school graduation means you made it through 13+ years of school without totally losing your mind. It's a big marker of change in your life, and it does deserve to be celebrated.

You don't have to become demanding or narcissistic, but it's okay to let the day focus on you. Be gracious when people congratulate you and don't try to shrug it off like it doesn't matter. Plan a graduation party you actually want to attend, with the friends and family you want to hang out with, and take a little time to celebrate yourself. It's a great way to honor your high school experience, and it will give you plenty of memories when you're feeling a little nostalgic about leaving school for good.

Rory From Gilmore Girls Graduation

(Gilmore Girls via The CW)


It's Okay to Enjoy the Last Few Months in Your Comfort Zone

Most of the advice you're currently receiving probably centers around pushing yourself and experiencing new things, but I'm here to tell you that it's okay to relish the last few months in your comfort zone.

When graduation came around, I felt like I had to make a major change in my life. After all, that's what graduation was all about, right? When I couldn't find a way to shake things up in a big way, I started to freak out. I felt like I was doing the adult thing wrong, and I couldn't understand how I was supposed to push myself if everything basically felt the same.

In general, it's good to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but graduating high school means that's going to happen naturally. Things are going to change whether you want them to or not, so there's no reason to try and force more change on top of that. Instead, enjoy the last few weeks or months in the comfort zone you've built, before things start their natural progression towards transformation.

Appreciate the moments you get to spend with all your BFFs in your favorite restaurant. Keep up the Saturday date night tradition with your S.O. Visit the places you love, participate in the activities that you've done your whole life, and take time to genuinely appreciate them.

Change is coming no matter what. The best you can do is take time to appreciate everything before it changes, which will make for a much more graceful transition when the time comes.

Troy and Gabriella at Graduation

(High School Musical 3: Senior Year via Walt Disney Pictures)


Looking to indulge your sadness about leaving school forever? Click HERE for nine graduation episodes to watch before you say goodbye to high school.