Woster: A bit of unneeded advice for high school grads

My advice boiled down to: Don’t worry about the future. Much can change. I know.

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Back in the 1980s, when I first started writing these personal columns, I used to devote one each May to high school graduates and their futures.

Personal columns, by the way, are pretty much what the name suggests. Sometimes they have a point. Sometimes they tell a story or give an informal history lesson. Sometimes they slip into advice or opinion, although I tend to think most people can form their own opinions and seek out better sources of advice than I can offer.

Even so, I used to write an annual column giving tips about life after graduation. High school can be a tricky, uncertain time for many young people. It sure was for me, although I tried to not let on. I remember my graduation night well.

I walked into the gym to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” without a clue about what I would do after the commencement ceremony ended, Walking solemnly toward our front-row seats, I clutched seven folded pages of a valedictory speech in my sweaty-palmed left hand. How could I be the guy about to give that speech and the guy with no idea what would come next?

I mean, I knew I would work on the family farm in the summer. That was a given. I knew I would go to college in the fall. I had been accepted at Creighton University and I told everyone who asked that I would major in journalism. I had no idea what I might do with that major. I enjoyed writing. The first time someone asked about college plans, I said journalism. They seemed satisfied, so when others asked, I answered the same thing. It seemed like a plan. If a scheme without single detail can be called a plan.


Anyway, that was the context for the high school seniors’ advice columns I would write years later. My advice boiled down to: Don’t worry about the future. Much can change. I know. Too simplistic for words. Sometimes a parent would stop me to say the column really hit home. I never had a graduate stop me to say that.

I don’t write those end-of-school advice columns these days. Any kid with a smartphone or even a school computer can do a search for such information. In fact, the other day I did my own search. I typed in something like “advice to high school graduates.” I know the internet is kind of a thing, but I was startled by how many outfits have advice for graduates.

I found “15 pieces of career advice for high school graduates, “ “18 pieces of three-word advice,” “20 powerful things your high school grad needs to hear.” “14 wise words of advice.” and “five pieces of advice for graduating seniors.” The various titles had some overlap, but it surprised me how many different pieces of advice there are for 18-year-old kids to consider.

One of my favorites was “Find a job you like.” Well, sure, that’s a good goal, especially for college grads. When I left high school, I had that farm job. Didn’t matter whether I liked it or not. After I finished college, with that journalism degree I mentioned earlier, I applied for newspaper jobs in Watertown and Sioux Falls on the same Saturday. I had no idea if I would like either job. I just needed a job, you know? I took the Sioux Falls job because, well, because they called back.

And that journalism degree? It came from South Dakota State. I transferred from Creighton after a year. It was tough to admit I had made a mistake, but I haven’t regretted the move.

I read a bit of advice from someone who identified herself as a “middle-aged mom.” Sleep, she said. Time will come when you’d give your left arm for five more minutes.

Don’t think of high school as the pinnacle of your life, she said. I recall interviewing a Pierre senior and asking if she would look back on high school as the best time of her life. “Oh, I hope not,” she said.

She seemed so sure something more awaited her, I knew she didn’t need advice from me.

Opinion by Terry Woster
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