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Free advice for making the most of high-school years

Free advice for making the most of high-school years

Reprinted with Permission of
Craig Smith, Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Four years ago, I used this column to dispense advice to high-school students, particularly freshmen and sophomores. I'm no Ann Landers. In fact, I consider myself just a smart monkey who can type fast — but I got a good response and still get requests for copies.

Since that column appeared, I've thought of new things I wanted to say and ways of restating some of the previous advice. Since this year starts a new cycle of high-school students, let's do it again.


My advice:

1) Realize that no one gets out of high school without emotional bruises. Your feelings are going to get wounded in everything from classes and sports, to romantic and friend relationships. These are some of the most vivid years of your life and the highs and lows come in flaming SpectraVision.

2) Realize that you can't be friends with everyone. You will "click" with some people and won't with others. It will be that way your entire life. But just getting along with 97 percent of people isn't all that difficult. The other 3 percent are criminals, bullies or weasels. Avoid them.

3) There are activities, sports, certain teachers and classes at your school that will provide lifetime memories. Find them. They will make you smile when you are 95 years old and your teeth are in a jar beside your bed.

4) Do something extracurricular to "connect" yourself to the school, whether it's a no-cut sport such as cross country, a play or the pep band. If all you do is attend classes and go home, you are getting only part of the high-school experience. By the way, most people I know who quit a team in high school have told me they later regretted it.

5) In high school, you will have to make decisions on alcohol, sex and drugs. More cool kids say no than you realize. Show restraint. College and independence are ahead. I'm not advocating debauchery, but the only weekend beer shortage I've ever heard of was at Washington State University after Mount St. Helen's blew its top in 1980 and ash fallout closed roads.

6) Never forget that one dumb mistake behind the wheel of a car or with drugs has ended or ruined the lives of thousands of teenagers. You may think you are invincible but so did all the dead and maimed kids.

7) Read. Books, newspapers, magazines. Whatever you read, it will help your writing, speaking and thinking.

8) Be a good friend to your closest buddies but don't feel obligated to hang out with the same folks. It's like eating the same thing for lunch.

9) Keys to good grades: A) Don't fall behind. If you need help, get it immediately; B) Do your homework. You may not consider it important, but your teacher does; C) Don't be quick to form a bad opinion of a teacher. It can sour you on the material. Different teachers have different styles. Plus, you're not going to enjoy all your teachers any more than you are going to enjoy all your bosses in the real world. Also, realize that the same teacher you are ignoring today may be one you ask for a college recommendation letter two years from now; D) Don't be afraid to sit in the front row. It will make you concentrate.

10) Grades are important, but if your IQ is above that of a field mouse, you should have curiosity and get more out of school than grades. You should experience special "that's cool" jolts when you learn something fascinating or when the tumblers in your brain fall into place and you understand a concept or theory. I like what poet William Butler Yeats wrote: "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." I'd rather have coffee with a curious person with a bunch of questions than someone with a 4.0 grade point and a collection of memorized answers.

11) Playing two sports is better than playing one. It's not going to affect your scholarship chances half as much as your select-team coach is telling you. You will develop new skills and some of them can help you in your primary sport. You also will learn to deal with new teammates and coaches.

12) Get some exercise every day. Raise that heart rate and sweat. Yes, we're a nation of fat pigs, but there are more reasons to exercise than just fat-burning and general health. It will improve your concentration and your sleep.

13) The adage, "What goes around comes around" is true. If you're talking about people behind their backs, I guarantee that folks are talking about you behind your back. Be nice to people and good things happen. High schools are overflowing with insecure kids. Smile and try to improve someone's day.

14) High-school culture is notorious for sticking labels on people. Don't judge others based on secondhand opinions. Form your own.

15) Appreciate the fact that it's amazing that you are alive. It means thousands of your ancestors survived and were healthy enough to reproduce. You are special whether you realize it or not.

16) Don't totally overcommit yourself. Leave some time to relax and just be a kid.

17) Be nice to your parents. They are smarter than you think and some day you will be a parent. Raising you is no picnic.

Have a question about high-school sports? Craig Smith will find the answer every Tuesday in The Times. Ask your question in one of the following ways: Voice mail (206-464-8279), snail mail (Craig Smith, Seattle Times Sports, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111) or e-mail