The first half of the school year is coming to an end and lately I have been thinking of what I want to say to every kid for whom I have ever babysat, served as a counselor, or somehow mentored. I am not far removed from the North Carolina public school system and I remember well that getting over the mid-year hump in grades K-12 can be tough. I have been way too inspired by the children with whom I’ve worked in numerous realms over the years to not remind all of them that they have so much to offer the world, but in their own individual ways. I suppose now is as good a time as any.
1) You are your own person.
Never forget this. You’ll hear this from so many adults as you get older, but please take it from a college dude who has witnessed his peers forget it: One of the most important things you’ll do in your whole life is remain true to yourself and what you believe. If you see others doing something you know isn’t right, get away from it. In school, a lot of times you’ll see so many people follow crowds and lose sight of who they are as individuals. Your beliefs, talents, and dreams are what make you, you. No one can take this away from you.
2) Everything you do and say matters.
You are so important, but this also means that how you speak to and act toward others is remembered. Even in elementary school, your actions and words form who you are as a person. Everything has a consequence, in some way or another, whether that be writing “I will not talk in class” on the chalkboard 40 times as I and others did in Mrs. Jones’ 4th grade class or standing in the hallway in middle school, as I remember so well. So always think before you speak or act, especially about how it might affect someone else. Again, you are so important.
3) Put others before yourself.
Please, please do this. I actually witnessed so many of you doing this at camp this summer, perhaps because servant’s heart is a major pillar of camp’s code or perhaps just because that’s the kind of people you are. You’ll never be too cool to be kind to others, to help people who might not be able to help themselves, or to just do the right thing. We were put on this earth to do good for other people, not just for ourselves.
4) Be a leader.
Oh yeah, another one you’ll here for the next 10 plus years. The only thing I’ll mention here is that you have two choices: to be a leader or not. There is no in-between. And being a leader is so much more than holding a position or being in charge of others; it means setting the best example for your peers and being the most positive version of yourself you can be. It also means being okay with being uncool at times in order to do the right thing. The world needs more leaders, and I know we can all count on you.
5) Don’t be afraid to be afraid.
Maybe this is the most important piece of advice I could ever give you. I’ve talked about this before and about how sometimes you need to be afraid to have courage, because so many people believe fear is weakness, and I disagree. What’s in your control is how you respond to your fears by trying new things, pushing yourself, and living your life to the fullest. Don’t ever feel like you’re weak for being afraid; I’m 20 years old and I still find myself feeling afraid all the time. Near the end of June Camp this summer, one of my campers looked at the rest of our cabin during evening embers, in which we conclude each day through discussion, and said, “I just wanted to tell everyone that it’s okay to be afraid, because sometimes you have to be afraid to be brave.” I have repeated this line so much because it is one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever heard, from adults or children. Take his advice and never be afraid to be afraid.
You matter. You have so much to offer the world, and you were put here to spread your individual light onto others. You’re only through one week of school, but everything will be alright, I promise. Embrace every moment and remember that not everyone is lucky enough to get to go to school; so many boys and girls would love to be able to sit where you sit every day. Have an awesome year and know that everyone is so proud of you.