Author's note: Six years ago, I wrote this essay when my daughter was graduating from sixth grade. It originally appeared in the Herald-Times newspaper, and it turned out to be my most popular column. Now, on the eve of high school graduation for the Class of 2016, I think the message still rings true, and perhaps even more poignant, for all of us.
Dear Sixth Graders:
So much attention is paid this time of year to high school and college graduations that your important transition from elementary to middle school is often overlooked. Yet this may very well be the most significant transition you will make during your school years.
Yours is the class who grew from Teletubbies to SpongeBob to YouTube. You now find yourselves at the halfway point; six years of school under your belt, and six more years to go.
This is the time of the year when outstanding students are honored. You may wonder what you can do in the next six years to achieve such an elite distinction bestowed upon only one-half of 1 percent of your class.
I don’t diminish their hard work and accomplishments at all, but at the risk of sounding cliche, I would like to present the idea that each and every one of you is a star. No exceptions. Our culture has this thing about identifying stars who stand out above the rest. We have this habit of separating and dividing ourselves into categories. You can certainly see this in our politics right now, and it’s an unfortunate reality in the academic world, too.
I invite you to take a moment at this halfway point to look at yourself and see your unique star quality. Each of us has gifts; by now, yours are probably starting to emerge. What activities bring you the most joy? What can you do well that feels effortless? What projects and creations do you enjoy sharing with others? Do you ever get so immersed in something that you lose track of time?
These are your clues. That secret something you have to contribute to the world is not outside of you, waiting to be discovered. It’s in you, and it has been since the day you were born.
Middle school can be crazy. Emotions and hormones run high. I remember my own middle school experience. Each morning, the entire student body gathered in the gymnasium before the first bell rang, and a fist fight broke out 90 percent of the time. Everyone would gather around to watch until the principal intervened to break up the fight. The reality of middle school can be raw and scary.
But you have your inner compass. Use it to help you navigate these rough waters. It will always help you find your true north. The sooner you claim your compass and learn how to use it, the better.
Life seems to run in cycles. Sometimes you feel like you are climbing up a big hill. You may enjoy a brief time at the top. Then you begin to fall down the hill, either joyfully or fearfully, or a combination of the two. You may stay at the bottom for a while. Then you gather yourself to climb the hill again. But this time it’s a different hill, because you have the experience of the previous hill behind you.
Elementary school is rapidly becoming the hill behind you. Gather your friends and fasten your seat belts. Your parents, teachers and community are rooting for you. I wish you all the best as you prepare for the next phase of your school career.
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