Real life about to hit grads — and that’s a good thing

Graduation season is upon us, as hundreds of area teens are saying goodbye to one level of education and moving into the next chapters of their lives, whether it’s further education or starting new careers. It’s something that arrives before anyone realizes it, and there’s a reality check that hits grads hard. Things will change, for better or for worse. In most cases, Mom and Dad have done their parts to guide them and are now letting them soar — or possibly crash — on their own.

Real life will not be giving out trophies for participation, and in many cases, there will be no do-overs when our young adults fail a test. Some have been well prepared for this eventual change in life and therefore will be able to face those challenges and be better people for it, but it’s going to knock others for a loop because some parents either didn’t have time to brief their children on the facts of life or chose to shield them from the harsh world we live in.

The biggest impact of that reality check is that the friends they have seen every day for four, eight, even 13 years are now splitting in different directions, going to other colleges. A few of those friends might be joining them at that institution they’ve chosen, but for the most part, there will be no more daily chats in the cafeteria, no more cramming for tests with the childhood chums and no safety net.

The separation will not be as sharp as it was for me when I graduated back in 1995. Back then, the internet was barely gaining traction, and there was no such thing as Facebook. Our yearbooks were filled with messages from friends exclaiming, “Keep in touch!” I’m here to tell you, that’s easier said than done.

Many of my friends were pretty much lost until social media gained a foothold in the 2000s, and when I reconnected, there were some interesting changes in their lives that I had missed. Even with social media and email and cellphones connecting the world today, there are still some things I know I’m missing because, contrary to popular belief, not everyone posts their entire lives on Facebook.

For the most part, everyone who entered kindergarten made it to graduation without losing classmates. That’s not always the case, though. I know it wasn’t for my class.

Just before senior year, I learned that one of my classmates, Jeremy, had committed suicide. Growing up, I’d dealt with friends moving away and others coming in, but there’s nothing like death to remind you that the time you spend with friends and loved ones. I’ve often wondered what kind of life Jeremy would have led if he hadn’t decided that ending his life was the only way out of whatever he was going through.

There have been a few other deaths of friends over the years due to strange life circumstances. However, there have been other wonderful stories from friends that help to remind me that, while growing up and being in school was pretty good, some of the better things have come as we’ve gone into our 20s and 30s and now into the 40s.

I have some friends who were high school sweethearts and married, only to divorce years later. I also have friends who fell in love in high school, married and are still stronger than ever today. One couple even raises seven children — five biological and two adopted — on a farm.

I have a friend who has moved to Hawaii and builds yurts. I have another who is the finance director for one of the suburbs in the Phoenix area. Yet another friend has gone on to be a structural design engineer. One of my best friends is running a chain of convenience stores in Georgia. For these friends, there were good times to be had in school, but there were even better times long after the diplomas were handed out.

The graduates in the Class of 2019 will find the same thing out as they continue life into 2020, 2025 and beyond. There is going to be great things ahead of them. There will also be bumps and bruises as the grads find themselves facing the future on their own. This year’s graduates have had the time of their lives, but believe it or not, the best is yet to come.

Here’s to the Class of 2019.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.