Before I commit this blog to print, a confession: What you read below is both from a professional and personal perspective. From the professional view, I have worked alongside hundreds of amazing young adults in Sixth Form settings for many years. From the personal, my eldest son has just completed his A Level studies at his school’s Sixth Form. My letter here is to them all.
Dear Year 13,
I want to take a few minutes of your time to share with you some of my thoughts about the times you’ve had at school, and the time that is to follow. You’re well beyond clichés of “crossroads” and “milestones” by now. However, if you’ve got your head screwed on, then you won’t be beyond some plain old advice – dolloped out in a spirit of humility and love. Like so many things in your life, you decide what to do with the contents of this letter. You have attained an age, and therefore a right, to make those decisions yourself. You also bear a responsibility for those decisions too – the accolades of accomplishments and the ownership of problems are yours. May you be thoroughly prepared and equipped to deal with both.
So, here goes. I’ve written you a list. I hope it makes sense. If it does, that’s great. If any of it resonates with you – even better. The list is in no order, other than that in which the ideas came to me, which has little bearing on their importance. It’s also by no means exhaustive, as you’ll see, but it is based on some of the challenges I know that some of you will face.
- Your identity is your most precious asset. Don’t trade it for conformity, but neither parade it for provocation. It isn’t a hairstyle, a tattoo, a fashion sense or a particular taste in music. All those things are other people’s creations that you may admire to the point of emulation. But, they’re not you. Treat them as the superficialities they are. What your identity actually is, is something for you to discover for yourself.
- The predetermined groups of which you are a member don’t define you. Don’t be taken in by the misconception that there are traits or characteristics you should exhibit or actions you should take because of a group you are deemed to be a part of: your gender, your ethnicity, your age, your abilities, your background. Do not allow others to place guilt upon your shoulders for the actions or opinions of others in your ‘group’, or place expectations upon you for a ‘cause’. This is the worst form of identity theft, and should be resisted. And don’t judge others by their predetermined groups either!
- In an age of polarisation in so many parts of our world, do not confuse abstinence from debate as agreement with you. Descartes wrote that “he who hid well, lived well.” More recently, university students in the United States have coined the phrase that “silence is safe”. Encourage dialogue with others as a means of finding truth. There is a difference between legitimate and civilised debate over issues that matter and the deliberate intention to cause offence. Don’t ever do the latter, and don’t ever allow those with differing views get away with accusing you of it as you engage in the former. There are plenty who’ll try to.
- Read. Read opinions that will challenge you, and those that will be affirming too. Don’t believe all you read to be true, but do believe that you can find truth through reading. As with all things, don’t sell yourself and your abilities short when choosing what to read. Nothing is “beyond you” – but you may need to read something else first! Be prepared to be profoundly moved by what you read.
- It is better to live with remorse for your actions, than regret for your inaction. So be active. The world hasn’t agreed to give you anything, or make anything easy for you. But statistically if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already been given chances in life that most of the planet’s other seven billion residents have not. Don’t be a confirmatory embodiment of the stereotypical “entitled, snowflake, millennial”. Your actions can change the world in as profound a way as those of previous generations, and they will.
- Never write lists with more than five key points in them.
Thank you for reading, especially those young people who will have read the above with consideration and scepticism. Equal measures of both will serve you well in education, and in life. If you’re able to do so, then my colleagues in our schools have served you well. Time for you to “pay it forward”.
I wish you success, happiness and fulfilment.