High school graduates, it’s been your moment. You’ve sauntered on stage to receive your diploma, flashing your best smile to your sweet grandmother as she snaps the thousandth shot of you in your cap and gown glory. It has been a long and hard journey, complete with all nighters, AP exams, rules, and most terribly, cafeteria lunches (shudder). But you’ve made it past it all the backstabbing, braces, and psychoticness that arrives with the magical, bumpy road that is growing up. And if you haven’t, I’m here to ease up the process.

As a recent high school graduate, I feel like I’ve had my fair share of troubles that have resulted in life lessons and opportunities for me to share. So now, watch me push my glasses up from the bridge of my nose a little, take an anticipated sip of my tea, and motion to a nearby armchair.

Welcome.

Have a seat, and don’t forget to take notes.

1. Track Your Progress!

The best thing you can do in high school is begin your resume early. Preserving records, from volunteering to competitions you won, will help you so much when the devil’s child (aka college applications) roll around. You can do this by starting a word or Google document and organizing it into subdivisions: professional experience, activities, community service, honors and awards, and skills and talents.

2. Connections are a Must

When you apply for college, you will be required to send up to three letters of recommendation. These will be from adults who have seen you prosper in social, academic, and extracurricular fortes: from your school principal to the supervisor at your work, it’s important for you to constantly be polite, respectful, and mindful that THIS IS NOT A DRILL AND THAT YOU ARE BEING WATCHED.

3. Develop Some Hobbies

High school is all about trial and error: you and your friends take a knitting class, hate it, blame each other, but at least you know you don’t want to be a knitter. Make sure to step out of your comfort zone and try new things that you could potentially excel in. Remember, colleges prefer kids who are amazing at one thing over those that are mediocre in everything. It’s important to find your thing: rock climbing, wrestling, acting, mathematics, interpretive dance…whatever. You just have to be spectacular at your thing.

4. Say No if You Need To

If there’s something you know is wrong, painful, risky, uncomfortable, or detrimental to you, you don’t have to do it. You owe no explanations to anyone: if your friends are truly your friends, they won’t push you to go against your will, or convince you otherwise.

5. #Goals

For the upcoming four years of your life, write down all your goals. Include the GPA you aim to keep per year, your target SAT/ACT score, and whatever details you want to use so that one night, you can pull the binder from underneath its familiar spot under your bed and sift through it. This way, you’ll know how close or far you’ve become from your goals, or you can just look back and laugh at how easy you thought it was. The choice is yours.

6. Realize that High School is just a Small World

Right now, the popular girl and her opinions seems so important, but I assure you, it will not matter in five years. I know that in high school everything is such a big deal: from what shoes you wear to who you eat with. And the truth is, in the real world, that all does NOT matter. The popular girl who threatened to bully you? Yeah, she’ll be cute and work at Michael Kors forever. What’s important is that you spend your time in highschool avoiding hurting anyone and making four or five close friends who love you for you and who you’ll keep up with and cherish forever.

7. Don’t Pass Judgement Quickly

Passing judgement and sticking labels seems so simple at this time in your life. And I get it: it’s fun; all the gossip, drama, secrets, and revelations. However, in some time, it becomes challenging. Remember: it’s always fun and games until the finger is pointed to you. Always be sure to give others the benefit of the doubt, especially because one day, karma might just come to get you.

8. Timing is Key

To list this point here as groundbreaking advice might be a little hypocritical: All throughout my high school career, I have not been early to ANYTHING. From birthday dinners to graduation, you can bet that I have been at least ten minutes late, and it sucks. However, I’ve learned my lesson. Be on time to class, events, and every to anything! People will notice and not hate you.

9. Put Away Your Pride

Yes, sometimes, you CAN say hello first, believe it or not. You’d be surprised at how many friendships start this way, where one person finally puts their courage aside and from that instance, a beautiful relationship kindles.

So set the notes aside, go make the most of high school and don’t forget to live it up.