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To the Graduates: Lessons from a Five-Year-Old

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To the Graduates: Lessons from a Five-Year-Old

Erika Marchant

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With less than three weeks to graduation, you inch ever closer to an era of “firsts”—first day of college, first time away from home for several months, the first time you have, in a long time, had a complete opportunity at a fresh start—and, of course, ever closer towards adulthood.

Your voyage towards grown-up status has been accompanied, as well, by an unavoidable sequence of “lasts”—last first day of high school, last high school football game, last high school dance, last scantron test, last passing period strolling through Lake Forest High School’s halls as a student. These final bits of your last spring at home, tulips blossoming and tree branches prickling with new life, are savored and made bittersweet by that single certain date, all circled and bolded and colorfully marked on your calendar: graduation.

So close to being a true “big kid.” At last, you’ve made it!

The beginning of your college experience, being an advent many would argue to be the beginning of adulthood, spells out a complete abandonment of childhood elements for many. And although you’ve inevitably retired by now the dress-up shoes, plastic toy trucks, and all other items emblematic of the years you wallowed in a sun-soaked childhood, the lessons that your smaller-selves can teach you remain valuable nonetheless. Never before has the innocent wisdom of a kindergartener pertained so strongly to a situation as now. We’ve all grown comfortable taking advice from those ten, twenty, thirty years our senior. But, why not those our junior? Our miniature counterparts may have more to offer as life coaches than we might initially realize.

Perhaps the most valuable of lessons that a kindergartener can teach you soon-to-be college freshmen would be, in a word, outlook. More specifically, outlook on the meaning of school.

Now, before I criticize students’ widely-held outlook of education, I will admit that I am not innocent of this. I’m guilty of it, you’re guilty of it, and the kid sitting next to you is probably guilty of it. The person you were a year ago, and likely the person you’ll be within a year will be, too. Unless, of course, you consider the logic of a five year old.

Guilty of what? you may ask.

I’ll tell you what. Guilty of making the same dull and universal complaints, whining the same worn-out phrases: “Why are we learning this? When are we going to actually use this in the real world? What’s the point?

These age-old protests are grumbled in most every high school classroom in the country, each calculus and chemistry and history classroom in America. While calculating what “x” is when “y” is one thing, finding what that cell does when this cell does another thing may appear fruitless in the moment, but the purpose of these seemingly-trivial lessons are far greater in the long run.

What you fail to see, my fellow grumblers, is that the “point” of schooling is not to simply provide you one-hundred-percent applicable life-skills (although a greater emphasis on things like taxes and savings accounts might come in handy down the road). Instead, the “point” of high school is, for us, learning how to learn.

A kindergartener doesn’t protest learning the different names of bird species, doesn’t question why Dick and Jane decided to do whatever, doesn’t argue when their teacher says it’s time to read a story on the carpet. Ultimately, the truth of school, as evidenced by our elementary school memories, is that we aren’t going to recall every storybook moral, and we aren’t going to care about whatever station activities we spent the most time at in second grade when we look back ten years down the road. The “point” of our time in elementary school was not always to provide us with applicable real-life skills, but, in contrast, to provide us with the fundamental thinking and learning abilities that activities later in life would call for. All the chunky cardboard books in kindergarten taught us to recognize letters, which taught us to read, which aided us in analyzing whichever Shakespeare sonnets our high school English teachers assign us to today. Our earliest years of education forged our minds to think and work in ways that we hadn’t even realized at the time.

So, before you ramble on about the pointlessness of school work again, recall the simplicity and wisdom of a five-year-old’s classroom outlook: you’re here to learn. And, assuming you stick with this whole college thing these next four years, there’s going to be a lot more learning to be done by your studious selves.

How cool is it that we have access to the education we have, to be exposed to such a world of color and discovery and information every day? Walking through the front doors of our high school five days a week can make us forget about the opportunity, the privilege, we’ve been provided with. We rant our school-related complaints ceaselessly, we wake up already anticipating going back to bed at the end of the day. We take it all for granted. But, why? Why, and how, have we let go of our former love and optimism for school? Somewhere along the road, we’ve lost it. We can (and do) blame it on the workload, on the long hours and the nonstop commitments. But, what it comes down to is this: we’ve lost our child-like sense of excitement and wonder for school.

Kids love school. Remember how excited you were to talk about your school day, full of finger-paintings and letter-block stackings, once you were dropped off at home by the little yellow school bus? How happy you were to start school again each Monday as a first grader? How empowered you felt after finishing your first fast multiplication handouts? What happened?

We’ve lost sight of our potential. Ask a kindergartener what they’re going to be when they grow up, what school is preparing them for, and they’ll excitedly fill you in on all their aspirations. They want to be in the White House, and they want to wear police badges. They want to be groundbreaking doctors, and they want to step on Mars. Kids, though small, know from a young age that they want to be agents of change—and they understand that school is a tool in helping them to accomplish their dreams.

You had it in you then, and you have it in you now. So, why don’t we walk into the high school’s front doors with the same flamboyant gusto and radiance of a kindergartener on their first day of school, in the spirit of a five-year-old whose stride’s been made bouncy with the weight of their new backpack? Getting older doesn’t mean we must lose our sense of excitement. Take back that cheerful buoyancy from your childhood!

And so, graduates, my wish for you as you embark on your college journeys is this: that you will rejuvenate that childlike love of learning that you might have lost.

Think like a kid when you can. Embrace the mistakes and prove they’ve made you stronger, showing them off like a four-year-old proudly boasting his play-ground scabs. Be honest and straightforward when you can, just as a kindergartener will tell you whatever’s on her mind (whether you want to hear it or not). Admit to yourself that you don’t know everything, try things before you’re fully prepared. Ask for help. And now, as your next four years of schooling commence, walk into class as a child does, with wide-eyes and an open mind. These are the things that will make you better, that will make life better. Our pint-sized life coaches may have more to teach us than any “10 Steps to be a Success” manual.

Sometimes, yes, it may be easier to think like an adult rather than like a child. But even as you grow up and march towards adulthood, as you venture into life’s next adventure, keep in mind the value of the thoughts and mind of a five-year-old.

About the Writer
Erika Marchant, Author

Erika Marchant is a senior at Lake Forest High School, participating actively in the school's orchestra, as well as the cross country and track teams.

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