Karen Osborne

Karen Osborne

It’s the age when you’re legally independent, the age when you can vote or join the military. In the United States, 18 is more than an age. It is a set of experiences. It is a magic wand that spins out a Cinderella-like transition from teenager to adult. It is the thing you look forward to all your life, and after it passes, it is a thing you look back on for the rest of that life — hopefully, fondly.

I turned 18 in the late 1990s, in a hot mid-July when gasoline was only 98 cents per gallon. I’d just graduated from high school the month before, and now that I was 18, I felt like I could do anything. As we cruised around town in my mom’s car, an unknown singer named Britney Spears debuted her first single.

I wish I could go back and talk to that 18-year-old now. I would tell her a lot of things. I would tell her to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the cool parts about being a teenager. I would tell her not to grow up too fast. I would tell her that it’s OK not to have her own car right away. I would tell her not to work too hard.

I would tell her to spend more time with her mom and dad. I would tell her that in the future, she was going to be Facebook friends with a girl she disliked in high school and that she would be “liking” all of her pictures. I would tell her to respond to the letters her friend sent her from college because in a few years a car accident will take those letters away for good.

I would tell her that people change, and that she’d find it was for the better and for the worse. I would tell her that it’s OK not to have a boyfriend. I would tell her that it was OK to wait for love, because when she really finds it later, it is going to be a doozy. I would tell her that all of the other boyfriends are going to seem like a waste of time.

I would tell her to eat well, to exercise, to care for her health instead of waiting for later. I would tell her to not worry so much.

I would tell her to do more service projects with her church. I would tell her that although high school graduation felt like the end of something, it was really only the beginning. I would tell her that she can’t possibly imagine the adventures that await her.

Once you pass that milestone, you’re never going to pass that way again. Make the most of every minute you have. Work hard to get good grades, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Be kind to friends and classmates. Be true to yourself, your beliefs and your morals. Enjoy the parties. Don’t worry about looking uncool in your mom’s car. Don’t grow up too fast. Make good decisions. They make good memories.

Being 18 is magic, but use it wisely.