A little bit of advice for the next step in life

Graduation “season” is well under way here in the Ohio Valley.

Our local colleges and universities have been holding commencement services over the last couple of weekends, and our high schools are beginning to take their turns, ushering their seniors into the next phases of their lives.

Admittedly, it has been a while since I stood in the halls of my alma mater, covered in cap and gown, saying farewell to those “good old days” of my youth. It was a time for celebration and reflection, but it also was a time to begin looking forward.

I’m sure it’s much the same for those students today as they prepare to cross that stage and turn their tassels. You’re probably looking back at your years of high school, for better or worse, and thinking on your experiences, the friendships, perhaps a favorite class or activity.

Whether you played sports, stuck to academics, were involved with the band, choir or theatrical productions, something made your high school years special and memorable, and I hope you hold on to those memories as you look toward your future.

These are times to cherish, and there will be plenty of celebrations in the coming weeks.

However, this won’t be the end. There is still plenty of living to do and many memories to make.

Some of you will be going right into college. Others might be looking into a trade school. Still there are those who will head into the military service. There also are going to be some who have decided to take some time to figure out where they belong. Whatever path you choose, make sure it’s something you want to do and something you will enjoy.

Don’t compare the results of your life to those of others, because there is no right answer. The path is yours to choose and your life to live.

I would like to offer just a little bit of advice, though.

Never stop learning. No matter if you decide on a four-year college, a trade school or immediately entering the workforce, take whatever opportunity you might have to continue your education. You might find yourself wanting to go for a bachelor’s degree later on in life, or perhaps work on a new certification which could help you in your chosen work field. You could even just see a community course for some life skill not offered in most schools these days. Whatever the opportunity, if it interests you, go for it.

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself by overloading your class schedule or sticking to a strict timeline. Things are going to happen, and if you end up having to stay in school for an extra semester (or even a year) it’s not going to be the end of the world.

Be flexible and give yourself options. Just as many of us didn’t get accepted, or couldn’t afford, a particular choice of school, you might have to look elsewhere when it comes time for your first after-school job. You’re probably not going to land at a major firm in New York City, and that’s OK. Work your way up the so-called ladder. You might find you prefer a smaller company or market. You might even find yourself coming home and starting a business of your own after a while. None of that is failure.

For that matter, don’t be afraid to fail. Some of the best lessons come from not accomplishing your goals.

The idea of high school being the best years of our lives is wrong. Our lives are what we each make of them. They are our stories and the path is determined by our choices.

(Howell, a resident of Colliers, is managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, and can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com or followed on Twitter @CHowellWDT)