Dear my high school self

Dear my high school self,

It’s Jess here, in June 2015. Last week I sat through my little (not so little anymore as he’s been much taller than me for awhile now – although I still have him in the strength department) brother’s graduation ceremony from Brittania High School.

It reminded me of what an exciting time it is to finish high school and how quickly those 5 years pass, even though at the time they seem to be painfully awkward and go by too slowly. These fresh faces, ready to take on the world, the enthusiasm and love that filled the auditorium took me back to just two years ago, although looking back after everything that’s happened, it seems like forever to my extremely wise 19 year old self.

CarpicIf my incredibly awkward grade 8 self is reading this, way back when in 2008, I can promise you that you will make friends in Vancouver and you will grow past the Lululemon sweater, brace-faced, slicked back hair you’ve been rocking for too long.

Instead, I’ll direct this letter to my grade 11/12 self, and any other grade 11/12 student going through the ups and downs of the wondrous adventure we call high school.

High school is probably one of the hardest things you will ever have to go through in life, but it is also one of the most rewarding things once you get your bearings. It sets you up well if you let it.

Grade 11 was probably one of the toughest years. You’re entering that period of time in your life where that big scary thing that the world calls “university” is starting to creep up on you slowly and you get people asking you where you want to go. You just sit there with a blank face, terrified about the decisions you’re going to have to be making with not a clue in the world.

You’ve started the grueling International Baccaleureate (IB) program and have been thrown into the world of Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity -Action- Service (CAS), French, Geography, History, English, Math and Biology.  I can tell you now you will always be perturbed when people compare IB to AP – no they are nothing alike!!

You’re introduced to external marking where your monster assignments are being sent off to Ireland, Wales and other countries around the world to be marked on a scale of 7 by teachers who have no idea who you are. Countless sleepless nights, stress on stress, practice IB exams – you name it, you did it. But you made it through grade 11, to start the true test of grade 12.

Grade 12, the land of university applications – the letters, the referrals, the essays, getting transcript copies, researching programs and trying to narrow down the never-ending list of schools that at times can become very overwhelming. No one ever taught you this!

It’s a new skill, but you’ll navigate this in time. The excitement of receiving your first acceptance letter will be incredible; soak it up. You might even get denial letters and that’s perfectly fine too – at least you tried!

I think that’s the biggest lesson you’re going to learn very shortly and I will come back to it.

Failure is never final. You will get through it. It will not always be easy to get through, but you will and you will be better for it.

You live.

You learn.

You grow.

Back to grade 12 – university application letters are just the first thing on the list. Next comes the all-consuming stress of getting good grades.

For you, that means surviving these brutal final few months of IB and the looming IB Diploma exams. Two weeks of pure craziness. 15 exams, often two a day, lasting 2-3 hours, studying for exams that are worth 80% of your final grade. You wonder if you’ll ever  get through these tests but, I promise, after that last exam is pure bliss. Then when you look back, you’ll think university is a walk in the park – even if it’s not. But if you can get through IB, you can get through anything.

By June, you and your classmates make it through the tumultuous turmoil of the school year and you receive the honour of delivering the 2013 Valedictorian Speech to your grad class. You’ll spend a lot of time perfecting this speech; you’ll talk about people’s hopes and dreams and try to encompass the high school experience of a graduating class of over 200 in 10 minutes – by doing what you do best, using a rugby analogy, but at the time you’ll have no idea just how powerful that analogy will become when looking back a few years later.

Moving forward, I want to share what you wrote because I think it applies universally to anyone reading this.

There’s a romantic notion that your high school years are the best years of your life.  But, my fellow graduates, it is my wish for you that the past 5 years of high school were not the best in your life.


Yes, you heard me correctly; I did actually say – NOT the best of your lives.


I want our grad class to go out into the world with enthusiasm and optimism.  To continue growing, learning and giving back.  To take the foundation we’ve built, find a new team to join and lead, to accomplish great things and create even more memories that will become the best in your life.


Your life is in your hands. You’re the captain of your ship. You can have, you can be, you can do whatever you want to do.


There is so much out in the world to experience – new cultures, people and friends. Enjoy life, travel, work, play, learn, love, make new friends and continue building the relationships with those important to you.


Each and every one of us in this grad class has dreams and aspirations.  And I know we will be able to achieve success if we put our minds to it.


Another famous philosopher, Ellen, said, “The definition of success changes. Success is to live your life with integrity and not give in to peer pressure to be something you’re not. Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path; unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, then by all means, you should follow that. ”


Every single person in this class has something unique to contribute to this world – to each team he or she ends up belonging to. You don’t have to change the world, but instead make it your goal to leave a lasting impact on one person you meet in your life no matter how big or small. “And if you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”


It’s hard to say how far you will have to travel while pursuing your dream, but as famous rugby 7s player Carlin Isles says, ” Don’t chase your dream, outrun it.”

I hope you’re excited reading this getting ready for your new adventure in the fall, whatever that may be. Whether it’s going off to university, travelling or working. I think there’s one crucial thing you never mentioned explicitly in your speech and I’m now coming back to what I talked about earlier.


Embrace it. Throughout high school you may never have encountered massive failure. Sure, you may have not done so well on a test, or maybe you failed it. Or maybe your high school provincial team didn’t win provincials but instead lost on a tiebreaker rule. Or maybe you missed the Seabus. Who knows what it was, but you’ve had a taste tester. Nothing major yet.

DormYou’re riding a high out of high school, awards ceremonies, convocation, prom/grad dinner and dance, finishing exams and having the whole summer lay ahead of you. Then Labour Day weekend comes and you’re off to school -meeting tons of new amazing friends, moving into residence, setting up your room, going to meal hall for the first time, orientation, starting new classes, joining a new team or club – enjoy every single second of it. Breathe it all in.

Your wildest dream comes true, for yourself it comes as a huge surprise and you get to train full time for a sport you love. Joining a team you’ve looked up to for years. You live that life for awhile and end up having to move out of residence because doing school and rugby full time is too much. You end up failing math and you’ve never had anything below an A on your transcript.

You break your foot and spend 9 weeks on crutches, missing months of rugby and coming back from it. You get cut from a team that held a lifelong dream for you and defined you and absolutely devastates you. You spend countless hours with a tutor for math and microeconomics but you’re still not seeing the results – yet you’ve never tried harder for any classes. You’ll call your parents on many occasions crying and they console you the best they can.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but what lies ahead for you is never the same thing as it is for the next person. But there is one commonality we all share: there are difficult times that will be in store.

I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer, but rather honest in this approach. I don’t want you to shy away from these challenges. To put it bluntly, it will suck. It will be hard.

Recently I found this photo on instagram and I think it speaks to the truth:


Sitting here today, I want to reassure you, you will find your niche, you will be happy. So you see? While things might feel like they’re unravelling, they might actually be falling into place. Even if it may not be like how you imagined it, but it will all be okay in the end.

Second-yearYou’ve found a program you love studying, you’ve discovered in the process just how much support you have and that you’re never alone in the face of challenges or when you’re feeling low.

You’ve found yourself on an amazing team again and playing for the pure love of a game for yourself and for your teammates. You get a job you really wanted. You’ve come back from an injury. You’ve achieved goals you didn’t think would be possible.

It all comes together.

There’s always something to smile about.

To wrap things up, live in the moment, focus on the present task and not the challenges that may lie ahead. Surround yourself with people who support you and love you. Learn from failure and learn from success.

You’re going to be great. You will find your direction. You will find your identity. You will meet new people from all walks of life. You will find passion and discover what drives you. That’s what university is all about.

But most of all, have fun 🙂

– Jess



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3 Responses

  1. Gillian Cornwall says:

    Wow, Jess! Great post. Thanks for your honesty and for sharing your journey. You are amazing.

  2. Heather says:

    Loved reading this post, Jess! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Kevin says:

    You’re way too cool!