June 1, 1995 in Washington Voices

School Is Just As Genuine As ‘The Real World’

Heather Whinnen University High School

“Congratulations Generation X graduates of 1995! You are now entering … the real world.”

This poignant summation is one reward I’ll be hearing in a few weeks for completing 12 years of public education (13 if you count kindergarten). Personally I’m not too fond of the cliche. What exactly is this “real world”? Am I going to be told that I have lived in a fake world?

Being an archetypal student, I did my work and examined the word real. With a little help from the Random House Dictionary I came to the conclusion that real is: sincere, unfeigned factuality, as opposed to imaginary duration. Real is authentic, genuine existence, not merely ideal, so-called being. So according to the cliche, I have been living in some parallel dimension, not having a genuine, but merely an imaginary existence.

I believe only forgetful people use this phrase and it would do them good to rehash their school days.

The world I am leaving is by no means unreal. Anyone placed in an enclosed area for 13 years surrounded by their peers has experienced a mini-version of the emotional realness of the world.

Going through school under parental care did not shelter me from uncertainties, insecurities, hardship, and struggles to be overcome. It does not protect anyone from tasting life and to me feeling life makes the world real.

That is my graduating summation. I believe all feelings are real and legitimate. When and where they are felt does not refute their validity.

Right now I am feeling lucky and thankful. My nibble of the world has been sauteed with security.

Being a member of Generation X, the Unlucky Generation, or the Thirteenth Generation (as economists like to call it) is not an inviting place to be.

I’m lucky because I did not grow up with fear and guns coming to my school. I’m thankful because I felt safe. Even though we are the generation of drive-by shootings, the L.A. riots, and the Oklahoma City bombing, I grew up loving people and feeling loved. In that sense, I was sheltered and I’m thankful for the refuge.

I’m glad I can say goodbye to a good past. Letting go of my friends will be very hard, but the thrills of new independence and change are just as powerful. Of course I worry that maybe I won’t be able to make it in this generation plagued with callousness. But I think I have a sturdy enough volume of life experiences to draw upon to get me through the future.

I’m ready to learn about, feel, and see a bigger world. I’ve been nurtured through elementary school, guided through junior high and moved through high school. I’m nervous because I don’t know everything that lies ahead.

After all the years of planning and worrying, I can honestly say: Never in my life have I felt so prepared to be unprepared.

Heather Whinnen, 18, will graduate on June 11 from University High School. She plans to attend Western Washington University and major in English. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

MEMO: (Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)

(Story from Graduation special section in Valley Voice)

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