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Graduation may make you feel sad — but not so fast!

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It’s the last day of school. I see tears streaming down my peers’ cheeks. But why?

Perhaps because this moment is a lot to process. We’re leaving the people with whom we’ve spent the last four or more years, as well as our hometown — maybe even the state entirely.

High school is arguably one of the most consistent social environments imaginable. It’s the same faces every year, for four years. Everybody is more or less in the same boat. We’ve all grown up in the same area, with many shared experiences. This year, however, most of us are going off to a totally different school in an unfamiliar environment, with an unprecedented amount of independence. While it’s exciting to get a fresh start, it’s also frightening to leave the familiar behind. According to Psychology Today, these conflicting feelings are natural: “We are programmed — actually hard-wired — to experience a variety of emotions,” F. Diane Barth wrote.

Change of any kind will bring about these contradictory emotions. The sadness has its roots in whatever is being left behind, while the excitement and happiness lie in hope for the future. That’s why it can feel so awkward — because simply looking back or looking forward can also change how you feel.

However, that doesn’t mean change should be avoided. Imagine if we seniors were to stay that way: Nobody would leave. Rather, everybody would stay in their hometown. They would spend yet another year at the same high school, taking classes on the same subjects, and hanging out with the same people.

I’m not sure anybody in this case would necessarily be miserable. In fact, they’d probably enjoy it. But that’s a frightening prospect to me: Everybody staying still, just because they find their circumstances comfortable. The complacency that comes from the familiar is often called a “comfort zone.” It’s universally agreed upon that people should venture out of their comfort zones, despite the potential for uncertainty and stress. “Healthy stress can actually act as a catalyst for growth, and provide a powerful motivation to act,” according to researchers at Stanford University.

Change is a necessary part of life, and of growth. Given that sadness often comes with change, sadness too is just a necessary part of life. It isn’t always easy to say goodbye to the people and things with which you’ve spent large parts of your life. In fact, it usually isn’t.

But wearing out your welcome in the comfort zone won’t bring you any closer to your aspirations. Graduates can be sad about leaving their friends and family, yes. However, they should be just as excited to embark on a new journey, filled with new people and opportunities.

I’ll be heading off to Villanova University in the fall. I felt sad at first, because I knew I’d be waving goodbye to a lot of what I care about. This is natural. I knew it was healthful for me to reminisce though, because being sad just went to show how great the past four years were.

However, I also know that staying here would do nothing for me: It would be comfortable, but monotonous. Even if I would enjoy another year in high school, I know it would accomplish nothing. Whenever I think about the future, I instantly beam with anticipation. I have no idea what the future holds, which makes it even more enticing. Clearly, it’s time for me — and all graduates — to move on. All things considered, I can’t wait for next year.

— Jackson Tarricone, of Merrick, graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore on June 24. He has been interning at Herald Life as part of the school’s Senior Experience program.