For the grads of 2019

Note: I often write a little something for my grade 12s at the end of the year. This is this year’s letter — a bit of a parting life lesson from Ms. MacKenzie.

Hi, grads of 2019.

I want to talk to you about doors – the literal and figurative kinds.

I admit that it would be kind of fun to post pictures of cool looking doors from across the globe, and talk about colour choices and their general impressiveness, but the doors I want to talk about are a lot less striking than the ones you’ll see around the world when you eventually, you know, take on the world.

The doors I want to talk to you about are a kind of faded blue, and some kind of dusty rose that has to have been on its way out of style when it was slapped onto the entrances of our classrooms. And fine, those same doors are exits, too, and you’ll be gleefully heading out of them as students for the last time soon enough, but I don’t want to talk about the end. Not today.

I want to talk about the beginning.

That very first day of school in grade 8, you pulled open the heavy front doors and walked into a building larger than any of your elementary schools had been. It’s a building that’s half school, half maze, and full chaos during those first hours of back-to-school. But you did it. You came in. And that was only the first door you made yourself walk through that day.

For some of you, mine was your second.

Only, you didn’t have to pull that door open – I’d done it for you. The entrance was unfettered and I stood to the side, smiling, greeting you with a simple “Bonjour,” and welcoming you into French 8. You were, ideally, reassured that you were in the right place. Hopefully, you knew that you were welcome. And even those of you for whom French was a challenge, you came anyway, to a class where, through the years, I’ve tried to teach you the wisdom of keeping doors open for your futures as much as I’ve tried to teach you all the things a verb can do.

But I have to admit a failure on that point. That I’ve been teaching you the wrong lesson. Because, no matter how hard you wish it, most doors won’t just open.

Yes, yes, some doors are automatic, and we’re all thankful for those when we’re carrying heavy stuff, but right now, the only weighty thing if your hands is your future – and nobody is better equipped to carry that than you. No matter how heavy it feels, it’s in your control. So while automatic doors would be really, really convenient here, they wouldn’t be half as fun. Because your job, now, is to figure out what you’re going to do with that future you’re holding.

I hope you’ll travel. Go on road trips. Try that new flavour of chips, or take that class that isn’t on brand, but looks kind of neat anyway. And I hope that you do all these things knowing that whatever experiences you have, and diverse courses you choose, and skills you acquire, the more options you’ll have for the days and decades to come. But know that you aren’t opening doors by living and learning and lapping up the knowledge that doing things brings.

Really, you’re unlocking them.

And each door you unlock is an opportunity for something new and different that could lead to your growth as a person or as a professional, but nobody is going to open that newly unlocked door for you. There won’t be a teacher standing next to an obstruction free entrance, welcoming you inside. You’ll have to pull that door open yourself. Or push it. Sometimes, the latch might stick and you might have to throw yourself against it with everything you are. But that’s the key.

You are the key.

The figurative doors in life aren’t automatic. They aren’t manned. They’re manual. And no matter how varied your skillset, or how vast your ambitious – no matter what opportunities are open to you – you still need to get yourself over that threshold.

You are the one who needs to submit that co-op application. That follow-up email or letter of resignation. You’re the one who needs to push for that promotion, or recognition, or raise.

But more than that, you need to earn it.

You need to use your skills, and your knowledge, and your experiences – not just collect them. So when you find yourself staring down an opportunity that’s scary, and challenging, and outside of your comfort zone, reach forward, grip that handle for dear life, and push yourself into an unknown that doesn’t know to welcome you, but might be just want you’ve been looking for.

I knew you were coming on that first day of school, so many years ago, and on every day since. I knew to open my door, and put you at ease, and belly flop into the challenge that is learning a language right along with you. But when you walk out of my room this June, or when you push out the school’s front doors and leave your days as a high school student behind, the world at large doesn’t know you’re coming. It doesn’t know the knowledge you’re going to acquire, and the skills you’re going to collect that are going unlock all those figurative future doors.

The world won’t be able to see you standing on the other side, so close to taking it on. Because although you’ve create the opportunities, you need to be the one who crosses that divide and introduces yourself to them. They don’t know to welcome you. You have to welcome them.

So when you walk out of school for the last time this week, note how your palm presses against the door. How your shoulder absorbs the resistance, and your core keeps you balanced. And know that when you’re bored, or stagnated, or you feel as though you’re no longer looking forward to each day and just desperately need something new, that you can have it.

Just find that door you’ve unlocked.

And push.