Chicago - Jul. 7, 2020
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Dear High School Students And Recent Graduates . . .

I hate to cut the fun and excitement of teenagehood short, but I've got news for you: very soon, you'll be walking into something serious. Something that needs to be changed. Something only you can help change. I'm not talking about you going away to college. I'm talking about you playing a vital role in our society.

Look, I'm neither a philosopher, nor a psychologist, nor a saged old woman who has lived through a Depression and two World Wars, nor anyone with relevant credentials, unless of course being a jaded existential young adult counts for anything. I'm a college student. Out of the frying pan into the fire, you could say. Why do I care what high schoolers are like? I'm done with them, you might be thinking. Why would I go through the pains of drafting a slightly pretentious letter to a group of people I no longer have to deal with? If only that were the case, and that is the reason why I'm doing this. You're the change our world needs, but it comes at a cost: you have to change first.

I don't care if you go to a posh, upscale private high school or if you go to an underfunded public school. There is one thing that unites all high school students across socioeconomic disparities: immaturity. I believe the root of most, if not all, personal defects is an unshakable sense of immaturity that prevents the individual from not only seeing their flaws, but from improving upon them.

I had a friend over for coffee recently. After hearing her share about our former high school classmates (now college students, mind you) behaving in a detestable manner, she broke my horrified silence by saying what I had been thinking and seeing all around me, but couldn't articulate. "We left high school, but high school never left some people."

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High schoolers tend to be very immature. Take a look at every high school movie or TV show, and you'll see a practically uniform set of characters who are quick to anger, slow to forgive, and generally unwilling to acknowledge their flaws when pointed out. It's understandable why: they're in that awkward age where their egos are particularly fragile, thus coming to terms with the difficult truths needs more patience and time.

The issue is, as a friend of mine put it, that some of us never abandon this adolescent mentality. We paid obscene amounts for a cap and gown that we'll never wear again. We have our diplomas. We walked out of those front doors for the final time. Yet the temperament, resentfulness, and immaturity of our young selves continues to permeate.

It is understandable why so many people might reject changing for the better. It's unpleasant to acknowledge your flaws, let alone begin the arduous odyssey of self-improvement. I think part of the problem of the high school temperament that remains with us even after graduating is the fact that our culture forgives us for our immaturity. The magnanimity doesn't just end there: we're almost expected to be immature. Because we have this societal expectation as our cushion to protect us from the blows of this self-fulfilling prophecy, the determinants of immaturity don't strike us as being anything more than just a part of childhood. But here's the thing: childhood is over. We're adults . . . or close enough to start acting like it.

I often think about what our culture would be like if societal expectations held us to higher standards. Yes, of course, immaturity is inevitable, due to our brains not being fully developed, or our not having experienced much of life yet. Those marks of adolescence are, indeed, forgivable. But they shouldn't excuse us from having to improve upon ourselves.

When my class left high school, all of us were buzzing with excitement for what the future held. We confided with our friends about how nervous we were about making new friends; we boasted about how mature we were sure we'd become; we braced for impact against the debt we were about to hoist upon our shoulders. What a pity it is that most of us haven't changed.

Some of us have changed for the better! We ironed out the kinks in our temperament, abandoned the negative personality traits, and truly blossomed into someone better and maturer. Naturally among your group, there are many high schoolers who are mature and refined and exercise impressive amounts of self-control. But like most good things, those people are few in number and usually tend to mind their business, rather than invest their efforts (in vain) in awakening the zombified mob. But the vast majority of high schoolers aren't mature, which is an issue bigger than most of us want to admit.

Of course, being a college student means you and I find ourselves in the same generational conundrum. So in a way, by preaching at you, I'm also preaching to myself and my fellow college students. The difference is, however, that since I've left the trenches - I mean, high school - and have witnessed the stunted maturity of those around me (professors and students alike), I'm acutely aware of the fact that if any change is going to happen, it'll have to start with you.

As I've mentioned, I'm a firm believer in immaturity being one of the foundations for a bad personality. If you're disorganized, short-tempered, or practicing an unhealthy lifestyle, the reason you have yet to change for the better is because you're either too immature to deal with the situation or you're so immature you've yet to realize you're even in a situation that needs to be changed. Then, of course, there's the issue of growing cross with anyone who points out our flaws. It is uncomfortable and painful, but that's no excuse to not listen. Immaturity is not laughing at a reproductive-organ joke (those can actually be quite funny), rather it is willingly remaining blind to self-improvement.

This isn't a short-term problem, either. Brad Holland once said, "Art imitates life. Life imitates high school." For those thinking we'll "grow out of it," I suggest you look out the window. Have you noticed how dysfunctional, angry, and immature the world is?

High schools represent humanity in its rawest, purest self. It's a fantastically, yet depressingly perfect representation of humanity at-large.The way these future leaders of the nation behave between the walls of high school is the way humans across the nation behave once they've left, and it is the way they continue to act well into their advanced years. Yes, certain details change if they acknowledge the need and put in the work to change. But the core of the 11th immature-grader remains constant even years after walking through those wretched classrooms. No wonder our nation is populated by people who've mentally yet to graduate.

We can see the seeds of the immature teenager in full bloom around us when we just look. Have you noticed how catty and petty adults are? How unwilling they are to admit they have problems? How quickly do they lose their temper? Their infantile expectations and attitudes? It's almost as if they're us . . .

It takes a great deal of maturity and courage to look away from the rose-tinted mirror and see ourselves for what we truly are. Short-tempered, prone to sulking, irresponsible, messy, unhygienic, stubborn, selfish, egotistical, and many more unfavorable adjectives are all so closely interwoven with our daily lives that we forget they were ever there in the first place. We become so well-adjusted to living as a stubborn, messy, egotistical, poor-hygienic prick that when someone points it out to us we become offended. It simply isn't possible, we might think, that I could possibly be anything like that!

Often the case isn't that we're upset because those terms are genuinely false, rather because deep down we don't want to face the possibility that we're so flawed other people are noticing it and beckoning us to change. The mature person takes a moment after a possible strike to pride to reflect that maybe, just maybe, we could do with being more patient with others; we could let go of unnecessary grudges; we could make haste with meeting deadlines; we could change for the better.

The mature person, though slightly hurt at hearing someone use critical terms to describe them, entertains the possibility of those things being true. Mature people don't resist the disapproval, they don't clap back with stating maliciously the other person's flaws; they analyzes the other person's comments. The mature person changes for the better.

We don't let a teenager run for Congress. We don't let a teenager run a hospital. We don't let a teenager manage a multimillion dollar company. We have age restrictions for a reason. Teenagers tend to have unreliable, neurotic temperaments. They tend to get defensive and nasty when confronted. We hope that with the passage of time we'll refine our personalities, brush out the knots in our characters. Sometimes we do; often we don't. The only thing preventing us is our inner 18-year old self punching and screaming at every attempt to remove the cap and gown.

I wonder if you've grown tired of being referred to as snowflakes; as being criticized for letting PC culture rage on; as being babied and overly sensitive and thus, reluctant to change, because changing would be growing up, and growing up would mean leaving behind the comforts of childhood. I sure as hell have, and because of that, I'd like to show the adults that we are more than just wimps and kids in neckties and high heels. I'd like to show them that we can change for the better; take things on the chin; thicken up our skins a bit. None of that can happen until we've committed to maturing.

Gandhi said, "We but mirror the world." High school is like a sample petri dish of the world ahead of us. I've grown exhausted seeing the country, personal relationships, and institutions run by people as immature as teenagers. Kurt Vonnegut would agree with me, saying, "True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country."

We can be the change everyone has been desperately waiting for. In fact, I'm writing this to implore us all to be the change. We are the future of this nation. We have immense responsibilities before us that are meant for adults, not for teenagers. I only hope others will realize this before it's too late.

Yours truly,
An existential college student

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Previously by Kat Mam: How Studying History Made Me A Stoic.

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Comments welcome.



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Posted on June 23, 2020


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