My son will graduate high school in June 2021. It’s been a stinker of a year, and although it seems he will get to return to school in person, it will only be for a short time. And it won’t be the same experience he had pre-pandemic. Despite what he is missing and the tumultuous year we’ve had, he mostly has a positive outlook and is looking forward to finishing high school and heading to college. 

As his graduation looms on the horizon, I’ve been reminded of my own high school experience. I got to enjoy the status of being a senior with homecoming and prom and celebrating with my friends.  It was a happy time mixed in with anxiety about what would come next.

As I think about what advice might resonate with my son before he sails off into the world, I fondly remember Mary Schmich’s column on advice for graduates that was widely circulated in 1997.

It was a list of recommendations that seems even more relevant to me now. She opened and closed the column with a plea for using sunscreen. Much of the advice still holds true for the class of 2021, especially the sunscreen. I also love the point about reading the directions, which is often ignored by my son, but I digress.

Schmich’s timeless advice was a mix of big and little things, which is probably why it struck a chord with so many people. The class of 2021 will still need to wrestle with fears about the next steps in their journeys and figure out who they want to be when they grow up. They’ll also need to learn how to socialize again after being quarantined for much of the past year. As vaccines become more plentiful, it seems we can start to see the pandemic in the rearview mirror, but it will likely take some time to get back to “normal.”

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With all that in mind, I offer some advice based on my observations over the past year for the pandemic graduates.

Wash your hands. I know you said you did.

Read the directions. It makes so many things simpler and it doesn’t take that long.

Continue to find ways to connect with each other. This class was given so many restrictions, yet you found creative ways to engage online or in socially distant ways.

Take some risks. You’ve been limited in what you can do, but that won’t always be the case. Try new things because you might discover you like them. 

Reach out when you need help. No one has all the answers. It’s a sign of strength to own what you don’t know.

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Stay curious. Ask questions. Do your research. Voice your opinions.

Be careful about what you post on social media. It never really goes away, and you may regret a post someday.

Practice your handwriting. While most things can be done online, some things still require signatures and handwritten notes are still appreciated.

Smile. Even in a mask. 

Learn some life skills. Know how to do your own laundry. Learn a few recipes and how to sew a button onto a shirt. 

Exercise. Even if for now it’s sit-ups on your bedroom floor.

Stay hydrated. Drink water, just plain water.

Hang out with your parents. I know you’re probably sick of them. They love you and are going to miss you when you move out. Say “yes,” next time they ask you to play Scrabble.

Be kind to your siblings. They are missing out on things, too. 

Get up early on a weekend from time to time. You might enjoy the quiet before the sun comes up. 

Wear a coat outside in the winter. Coats are warmer than hoodies.  

Invest in a nice outfit and keep it in good shape. You will need to wear it someday.

Don’t shut down. Life is tough right now and it’s easy to grow cynical and disengage.  The world needs your perspective, ideas, and resourcefulness. You have built strong resiliency muscles and are ready to change the world.

And don’t forget to wash your hands.

Beth Perell

Beth Perell is a communications consultant living in suburban Washington, D.C. Her work has been featured in a variety of communications publications, including Communications World, Capitol Communicator, PR Week, and PRNews. She is currently doing her best to raise two teenage boys.  She can be found on Twitter @bcperell or Instagram at @bethperell