To graduate, according to the Oxford Languages Dictionary, means to successfully complete a course of study or training. In my book, graduating means being forced to grow, especially when graduating from high school.

Recently, I walked across the stage of my high school, handshake not received but diploma gained. During my ceremony I sat there and came to the realization that no matter how badly I might want to, I would never truly be a kid again.

In the days leading up to the ceremony, I felt a whole new weight being placed upon my shoulders. My childhood was well and gone, and I was now supposed to live my life as an adult. Go to college, get a job, a pet or two and get married.

Recently, however, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve felt like completing that cycle would only make one person, or rather, one entity, happy– Corporate America and its Uncle Sam. 

Although there is nothing in this life that you will be forced to do, it feels as though most of our lives are decided for us before we are old enough to understand what those decisions and this life might be–whether it’s our parents instilling in us from a young age that we should be lawyers and doctors or our friends and peers telling us that our dreams are unrealistic.

There comes a point in every person’s life when wanting to be an astronaut or actress goes from being cute to problematic, and all of a sudden you need to be more “realistic.” Most kids are forced out of these dreams before they even start trying to achieve them and if they do hold on to them they eventually fade.

Today young people are shown everything they could do and be, but at the same time, they are told exactly who they aren’t. Our generation has been labeled by the use of social media and indulged in quick, rapid-fire stimulation.

As time passes, it’s become more and more apparent to me how true that is, as much as I may dislike it. Recently I’ve considered what it means to have a label, or strings tied to you, and I believe that these ties are meant to be cut.

If you decide to become what others have deemed you to be, then your chances of feeling a true sense of pride behind your accomplishments are no longer.

Do not allow yourself to be confined by the ideologies of others, no matter who they may be. Sometimes the ‘righteous’ path isn’t for you. After all, what would a hero be without a villain? There is no correct way to live this life, because life is an experience to be had, not a game to be won.

Graduation is more than just a ceremony or completing a course of school; it is a turning point in life. And while it may feel that the door is closing behind you, almost being slammed shut, more doors are soon to open.

To my fellow graduates, allow yourself the space to fail, because it’s going to happen. Realize that there is no such thing as a perfect life, because the only life you can live is your own.

The Westside Express