An Open Letter to the Class of 2014



I wrote this piece in 2006 for my youngest daughter and her friends who were about to enter college. Today, as another batch of high school graduates are setting off for broader horizons, I feel that the message is still quite appropriate. So this is for the high school class of 2014.

By this time you are probably wondering how many more goodbyes your uninitiated and untrained hearts can endure before they break to a thousand pieces. You’ve cried through senior prom, graduation, grad night and the many “for the last time” gatherings you and your friends have organized, thinking that this flurry of activities will make the transition from high school to college easier.

The yearbooks have been signed, messages scrawled pledging eternal friendship and well wishes for the future. The pages are starting to fray from your constant rereading and the dropping of an occasional tear or two. You have been warned by those who came ahead of you that the lifespan of a yearbook obsession is short; by the time the temperatures drop and Christmas songs start playing on the airwaves, the yearbook of class 2014, so thoughtfully cared for, may already find its permanent place at the bottom of your drawer.

Unthinkable, you may say. A month after graduation you are still in the midst of collecting and preserving the artifacts of your high school life. There are scrapbooks to be made, photo albums to be filled, CDs to be burned – telltale chronicles of the flow of your lives the last four years.

You listen to us old folks wax nostalgic about our own high school and teenage years and you wonder if 40 years from now, you will be as sentimental and enthusiastic about meeting old classmates as we are now. While you may be all sad and teary-eyed over the inevitable breakup of your friends circle as you move on to college, you have also watched enough movies and TV shows to be aware that emotions of the high school variety eventually fade, overwhelmed quite easily by the roaring, surging waves of new experiences that are before you.

By this time too, you have been saturated with advice – many well-meaning, others too constricting – on how to negotiate the next phase of your journey. Study hard, be good, say your prayers, clean your dorm room, change your bedsheets, budget your allowance, don’t drink and drive, don’t smoke – reminders that, you insist, are unnecessary because you know how to take care of yourself.

You pay more attention to the college students who are home for the summer and brimming with tales of clever workarounds and petty rebellions. Their survival tips are practical and priceless; for example, how and when to recycle leftovers when you are down to your last dollar; or why you should buy yourself a month’s worth of underwear so you don’t have to do the laundry often.  Then there are the whispered skills that parents are not supposed to know about: where to get a fake ID so you can buy beer or how to wangle birth control from the school nurse – important knowledge that spell the difference between a colorful college experience or a forgettable one.

Your mood swings from sadness at seeing your old life wilting away and excitement for what lies ahead. A lot of times you lay awake at night wishing that things remain the same. The routine of your life with your family and high school buddies, the familiarity of your hometown, even the weather that your body is used to – all assume a dimension in your mind that wasn’t there before, not when your fantasies of living a bigger, freer life in a bigger universe filled your thoughts and prodded you to choose a college far away.

The rest of this summer will fly by too quickly. In a month or two, you will bid a final goodbye to the old high school that you had alternately loved and hated, to the  neighborhood that embraced you as little children and teenagers, to your usual haunts, to the people who have seen you grow up, and to your friends who have been your chosen family outside of home. The finality is not because you will not see them again; it’s because when you come back you will be looking at them with new eyes and they’ll seem different. You will be different.

Right now, you suffer pangs of fear and anxiety. What if the college of your choice turns out to be a dud and you’ll be miserable? What if you won’t have friends there? What if you fail? What if all the preparations you’ve made mentally and psychologically aren’t enough to get you to your ambitions? Will you be able to rewrite the script with the same confidence and enthusiasm you started out with?

Eight years ago when my first daughter moved to the other coast for college, I asked her for only three things: don’t get sick, don’t get into a situation you can’t get out of, and always treat people the way you want to be treated. I thought those were enough, and for the most part they were.

But having done a lot more living since then, I realized that there are more lessons I can invoke. Here then is my personal Desiderata that I hope will help guide your journey:

Be ever conscious and disturbed by the dishonesty and injustice happening around us, but don’t let anger and hatred rule your soul.

Strive to be an educated person, not just a skilled one.

Give free rein to your imagination and creativity and never be shackled by narrow minds, harmful substances and obsolete beliefs.

Always be street-smart and mindful of your personal safety, but get out of your comfort zone once in a while; by testing your limits you’ll be gaining valuable self-knowledge.

Put limits on your vanity. Never forget that you were born in this world not to decorate it but to help make it a better place for everyone.

Above all, be consistently kind – to yourself, to the Earth and to all people because only in kindness will you find personal peace.


Gemma Nemenzo

Editor, Positively Filipino