What Do You Say To Today’s High Schoolers About Life?

I was recently asked to give a speech to a group of high schoolers at my all-girls alma mater, St. Vincent’s Academy, in downtown Savannah. These girls were inducted into the National Honor Society, something they had all worked hard to accomplish. When I asked what I needed to talk about, I was given pretty straightforward guidelines: Introduce myself and what I do, how my time at SVA helped me in life and something about each of the four pillars of the honor society – Scholarship, Leadership, Character & Service. My mind started instantly swirling with ideas, but the thought that kept cropping up was- What Do I Say To High Schoolers Now-A-Days About Life? How would I reach them? I don’t know any teenagers well enough right now to understand or know anything about their generation.

I set to Pinterest to get a few ideas. I have a motivation board (here if you’d like to see it), so I scrolled through, grabbed some strong phrases and set to work writing my speech. Here it goes:

Hey y’all. I’m Kira. I graduated from SVA in 2008. I’m excited to be here with y’all tonight. I’ll introduce myself as quickly as possible. There’s about a total of three people in the world who actually know everything that my husband and I do, and we even keep some of it from them. But, I’ll give you the shorthand version of it all and promise to be honest. 

I graduated from UGA with a Public Relations degree from the Grady College of Journalism in 2012. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I thought it was frustrating we were forced to choose one thing, so I was floating along with an Art History major. That was until one day, my boyfriend, now husband and I, started a cooking show on youtube that targeted college students. Two months later, we found ourselves on Fox News’ morning show in New York City. A month after that he was on a Food Network show. Someone told me my promotion of our show was called PR. I seemed to be a natural at it, so I went and got a PR degree. 

Now, I own my own social media marketing company, Wymberly Communications. I manage and create content on behalf on businesses who don’t want to hire their own in-house social media person but want to have an online presence. 

I also have 4 acres here in Savannah that we have a little homestead on. We have 3 horses, 5 chickens, 9 ducks, 4 dogs, 3 cats, a parakeet and some fish in addition to a thriving garden. This is my passion, and when I realized that I was boring and annoying everyone I knew to tears with my poultry and diy pictures, I started a blog about our simple life called The Homestead Kings. I also help my dad manage his financial company’s office which pretty much entails keeping him organized. I also manage my husband and I’s rental properties. I help my mom sell her art. Oh, and I’m also a freelance writer for a redhead website, How to be a redhead . com. I think that’s it… I might have forgotten something. I wear a lot of hats. You can see that I didn’t take that choose one thing to do in life too seriously. Some people think we’re crazy. Maybe we are, but that’s us. Let’s get to you. 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that not having boys here allows you to become more confident. I tend to agree, but I’d like to extend that to a yes and a no. I think what St. Vincent’s does to enhance your confidence is provide you a space and platform to do so. How many of you juggle not only your classwork but also art, sports, debate team, clubs, chorus- you name it. The school and your parents also give you the platform to build independence and trust just through letting you have frees, not to mention parallel parking downtown at age 16. The edge that St. Vincent’s gifts you is that you are different. Don’t let that word scare you. The word different doesn’t always have to have a negative connotation, and it certainly doesn’t coincide with the word special. Let me explain. When you get to college or wherever your next step may be, how many people will have gone to school in the downtown of the first city ever made in their state? How many would have had the opportunity to experience a historic, all girls Catholic school? How many were able to encounter high school at the depth that you are and will? St. Vincent’s gives you the tools to be comfortable being different, a reality that many grown people struggle with. Be humble enough to know that you’re not better than anyone else but wise enough to know that you are in fact different from the rest because of many reasons, one being that you attended St. Vincent’s Academy. 

Since you have succeeded into getting inducted into the national honor society tonight, let’s take a minute to talk about the two big ideals of life, success & happiness. Did you know that every single person in the world has their own idea of what success and happiness are? Of course you did. You are sitting in front of me successful and happy that you are entering the national honor society. But, did you know that the reason everyone’s own idea of success and happiness vary is because everyone sets their own parameters for what they consider to be success and happiness? Hmm. That would mean that you have some control over those two ideals. For example, to a clinically depressed person, success may mean that they were able to get out of bed and get dressed one morning. No special feat for you and me but monumental to them. For a millionaire, success may mean that they have made enough money to allow for more time to spend with their family. Life is only as good as your mindset. Success and happiness aren’t these places where once reached you get to stop and hang out for awhile. They are daily objectives that together make up larger, life goals. Everyone has different parameters to measure their success and happiness. The key is not to compare yourself to others. Create your own parameters to measure yourself and work every day to meet those so that over years you can reach the bigger picture goals. 

There is no right or wrong way to do life, but these four pillars of the National Honor Society, scholarship, leadership, character and service, are imperative to being a good person and leading a fulfilling life. 

Scholarship: You will never stop learning. You may not study textbooks everyday as an adult, but your time as a student should continue. You will never know everything there is to know, so there will never be the need to stop learning. 

Leadership: Does leadership mean you have to be a CEO of a company or captain of a team? Not necessarily though of course those are admirable leadership roles. It can mean that you simply have the courage to be the best version of yourself and lead by example. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Take ownership of your successes. Take ownership of your mistakes. That’s leadership. 

Character: They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but I say character is the window to the soul. Facebook came out when I was at St. Vincent’s. Obviously social media is a great tool for personal and business reasons, one that I base my main career on. However, it’s also a fabulous tool to see others’ true character. It’s created this obsession for display, validation and approval. So, people typically go one of two ways: they put up this picture perfect, white picket fence of a life that basically says I’m better than Susan over there. OR they use it as a personal journal to gain the pity and empathy of others. Both ways are selfish and use others to boost their own morale. There’s a place for social media in our world, but remember this, “Never announce your moves before you make them.” You don’t need others’ validation and encouragement in order for you to grow and move forward. There is significance in privacy. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or window into your daily ups and downs, your daily objectives. Knowing this allows you to figure out who you are and what you are about as opposed to who society suggests you should be and what you should be doing. Refuse to let the world corrupt your integrity and character. 

Service: Do you have to go feed the homeless to qualify for service? No, although once again a very admirable action. Service to others can be attainable through something as simple as this. Recognize that you are no better than anyone else on this entire planet. No matter their stations, circumstances, decisions, appearances, etc. You will never regret showing others respect. That in itself is a service no matter what avenue you choose to provide it. 

There’s a reason we’re here honoring a handful of you tonight and not the entire student body. Is it because you are better or more special than the others? No. It’s because you worked for this. You earned it. You’re not entitled to get into the honor society. You knew that and decided your own fate on whether or not you would be here tonight. Congratulations y’all. If you leave here with anything from my talk, let it be these two things. Number 1. Showing respect and being polite to every, single person you meet will carry you far. Number 2. Your life is yours. Set your own parameters of success and happiness and refuse to let the world corrupt you. Now don’t tell me, but what’s your next success going to be? Thank y’all. 

I hope my realistic, practical approach didn’t scare too many of them. It seemed well-received. What do you think? What would you tell today’s high schoolers about life if you had the chance? (clean and non-political comments please.)

5 thoughts on “What Do You Say To Today’s High Schoolers About Life?

  1. Did you already deliver this speech? I would say that anyone with depression in the audience who made it into the honors society would feel very out of place hearing your comments about how they’re straight up not there. Not that that’s how you meant it of course, but still the possibility of someone having clinical depression AND being an honors student was casually omitted, and as someone with depression I know I would find that to be a little grating. Especially if I had worked hard enough to get there.

    I also think your comments about social media are a bit off the mark. Many people these days use social media for deep connections to other people and maintaining friendships, not as much validation. There’s some exacerbated behavior, yes, because it’s often easier to talk about difficult issues through text than it is face-to-face. (After all, if you want to tell someone to go to hell they’re much less likely to punch you through a computer.) Teenagers these days are a whole generation who have grown up online, they have whole entire languages and totally different social cues surrounding the internet than even the millennial generation who lived through it’s invention and rise. More and more people are forming even permanent relationships like marriage through social media and using it to organize to dramatic results.

    Rather, I would remind teenagers to be thoughtful of their internet usage and consider how their words online effect others. Because while the repercussions for telling someone to go to hell are less, the resulting pain it inflicts is the same, and that’s not how we build a healthy society. And that disconnecting to remember the people immediately around you is also vitally important still.

    And don’t eat tide pods. 😛 The end.

    1. Wow. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. I’d say…pretty much what you said. Thanks so much for giving your time and heart. Addie loved it

  3. I found this inspiring! I’m sure those young women will connect with what you said. Thanks for sharing!

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