The Last Lecture to My Son Before He Starts College

This past week, a friend’s 21-year-old nephew died of a drug overdose, senseless gun violence captured national headlines and a tuition bill arrived at my house. In an already frightening time, that bill forced me to confront my own alarming reality.

My son is preparing to leave home in a world that seems to be sharpening its claws as politicians incite xenophobia, heroin is as accessible as alcohol and guns, rather than debates, are used to express anger.

My son is an intelligent, open-minded and generally compassionate person, but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying about what will happen when the last bit of control over his daily life falls away. My husband and I have spent the past 18 years trying to instill values of social justice, non-violence and self-care, but I can’t help but worry about all of the other influences he will soon confront. Most people think he’s a goofy, ridiculous and carefree individual, but I know he has a tender soul with an innate desire to make others smile and a tendency to lose his footing.

In only a few days, the toddler who charmed everyone with his smile and his precocious ability to read will be heading to college early to join the marching band, and I can only do two things: hope that he has received everything he needs to make appropriate decisions and arm him with this one last lecture. So here it is:

More than 30 years ago, when I was leaving for college, my dad told me that I better learn to depend on myself because I could never count on anyone else. When he said this, I got angry. I had a boyfriend, a best friend and numerous other friends who cared about me and would always look out for my best interest.

Or so I thought.

One by one, all of those once important relationships disappeared as people either disappointed me, I disappointed them or our interests took us in completely different directions. One morning I woke up and realized that there would only be one person with whom I would go to bed every night and wake with every morning. There would only be one person who would have to live with every mistake I made, every goal I ever achieved and every relationship in which I was involved. Because of that, I had to like that person, nurture her soul, forgive her mistakes, laugh at her inadequacies and most importantly, always give her the benefit of the doubt.

Your grandfather might not have elaborated on this reality when he was trying to prepare me for life, and I took years to understand it. Now I do, and I hope you will heed the wisdom our collective years.

As you leave the life your parents have given you and set out to create your own, please understand that you can never escape yourself nor should you ever try.

Your life will be filled with amazing, interesting and persuasive people. Don’t let them change the direction you want to go.

Your life will be filled with people who don’t like you or your beliefs. Be kind and stand up for yourself but never be afraid to walk away. The only mind you will ever be able to change is your own.

Your life will be filled with tough decisions and painful losses, but it will also be full of amazing triumphs, lots of laughter and moments that take your breath away. Learn from the tough times and store the happy memories as fuel for when circumstances get rough again. Ultimately, you will be the only person who knows the best method for moving forward when life seems to be holding you back. So teach yourself early and remind yourself often about what can keep you going.

Most importantly, your life will be full of people who have no interest in your well-being because they are too absorbed with their own lives. Don’t let their voices get louder than your inner one. That inner voice is the one your father and I have nurtured from the day you were born and that you have developed as your ownunique, personal navigation system. Listen to it.

It is the only one that will always know what is best for you.

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