A Letter to the Brain of a High School Graduate

Brain development of young folk and how it might shape their next season of life.

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Dear Graduate:

Psychologists say that the human brain has two major seasons of development. The first is when you are young — the prenatal and early childhood stage. Psychologists frequently discuss the necessity of developing a baby’s brain when they are young and prescribe that you ought to read to them, play imaginatively with them, and engage their motor skills because, for those first couple years, you have a small window of opportunity to establish the foundation of their brain. 

The implication is that whatever isn’t established in those early years, the opportunity to manifest such exponential development, is now gone; the brain’s development slows and who you are is now almost completely correlated with what was established in the first years of growth.

It sets the stage for who you become.

However, there is one more season of development and that second season is, for you, now.

Between the ages of 18–25 the brain enters into a second development stage where the conditions almost mimic the malleability of the brain when you were 2 years old. All of a sudden, you begin soaking up the world in a way that will lead to your identity for the rest of your life. This is why it is easier to learn a language at 20 years old than it is at 40 years old.

And, again, whatever you establish now, will create the foundation that your development and identity will be based on forever.

Leaving high school and entering into “adult” life (whatever that means) marks the turn of this season. You are entering into an experience that will shape you more than you can ever imagine.

Use it well.

Learn, read, experiment, try things, take risks, go on adventures, and expose yourself to the world in all ways possible because if you do it now the benefits will be exponential in the years to come; you will have much to build on as you enter into the rest of your life.

But if you don’t do it — you will lose it. And you won’t get the opportunity again.

Yet, beyond exposing yourself to the world in all its forms, know that your selectivity, what you choose to impact you and shape you, will have direct consequences. Your identity is about to be shaped more than it has at any other stage of your life — and you get to choose what it will be shaped by.

As you reflect on your life, then, I hope it is obvious that you have much to be proud of. Eighteen years is a solid chunk of time — the world that you’ve seen, the skills you’ve developed, the struggles you’ve endured, the decisions you’ve had to make have all led to who you are right now. You may be young, but your soul has weathered with such nuance to create the identity we call “you”. The pain, the gifts you’ve found, the impact you’ve had — it is all a part of your story. 

Your graduation, however, marks that this season of life is now over. 

Which means that your story is about to embark on a new beginning. 

And you’re brain is, quite literally, ready to begin this new season. 

For those of us on the outside of your life, we are only left to wonder, “Where is this story going to go next?” And not just as a career, but with the kind of presence you will manifest in the world. What places will you go? Who will you meet? Who will you impact? Where is this journey that has been your life going to take you?

But past these questions, there is still one greater, one that will define your existence:

How is the world never going to be the same again because you are a part of it?

The question is not whether or not you will change the world — you will. Every single person changes the landscape of our common existence somehow. The question becomes — in which direction will you change it? Every decision, every word, every action, everything you do and say, every moment of your life will make this world better or worse, more chaotic or more beautiful.

And so as a person with a gift, with such capabilities that you have, with such experience that has led you to this moment, there is a tremendous potential in whichever way you decide to take this world. Your impact will be great.

Our hope for you is that one day someone will stand up to tell your story and they will say, “This person’s life is certainly a gift.” That people will look at you and they will actually see the very hope that our world so desperately needs.

Which is going to be shaped and decided starting now.

 It’s been exciting watching you grow…but I’m equally as excited for what happens next.

And know that wherever you go, we will be here with you to nurture your adventure and the trajectory of your soul.