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Opinion | A Promise to Grads With ‘No Promise’

I did go to college, though — mostly thanks to standardized tests — and I eventually figured out how to use my own brain. Living inside my mind had for years been like being locked inside a car I didn’t know how to drive. And then, in my sophomore year of college — I don’t know how else to put this — everything, very suddenly, felt different. The obscure became obvious: how to study and memorize, retain raw information and, most crucially, trap and turn into words the complicated ideas that previously drifted through my thoughts like clouds.

I don’t recommend underachievement, let alone delinquency, for anybody. I hope my children are able to thrive along traditional lines. It’s obviously preferable to leave high school with the highest possible grades and minimum erosion of self-esteem. Stepping into adulthood burdened with a rap sheet, severe emotional trauma or addiction is not ideal.

But it doesn’t have to be the end of the story, either.

By my own graduation day, kids I knew in high school had already gotten arrested or addicted, failed classes or stayed out all night because they couldn’t stand to go home. It would have shocked me, back then, to realize how many of them would grow up and disappear into normal, healthy-looking lives. Not everyone got a college degree, but most everybody landed, eventually, on their feet.

Even the friend who went to prison is long since free and has become more educated than I will ever be. My friend whose anguish was the hardest to grasp, the one who’d insisted since we were 5 that he was really a boy — he’s now a dad in a faraway city we never thought about, with a fascinating job we didn’t know existed, living unobtrusively as a man, which we would’ve assumed was impossible.

You have no idea what’s coming next — or after that or after that. If high school was good for you, keep the memories close.

As for the rest of us?

It can shock you, after all, how much it never happened.

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