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A letter from my 17 years old self to the graduated me: time to celebrate that I didn't graduate

Almost 5 years ago I wrote a letter to the ‘graduated me’. What I didn’t know yet, was that I would embark on quite a different journey. A journey that does not (yet) entail graduating in the regular sense.

Sometimes I find it difficult to relate to these graduations, however I do find it important to celebrate learnings, to reflect and find closure. Also, or especially as a lifelong, self-directed learner. So I celebrated my own little graduation of my self-directed studies. Ready to transition to a new phase. I went into the forest, carefully placing pine cones around me. Each holding appreciation and celebrated learnings. Sitting within all these aspects of my learning journey, I opened my little letter to the graduated me.

I wrote this letter when I was in quite a bad place. My health was declining. I struggled with strong daily headaches, the lack of my period, weight loss and tiredness. I was, however, still studying lot's in order to graduate cum laude. And I was comparing myself with others and social media pictures, while not connecting on a deeper level with my friends.

Reflecting on this, I don’t find it strange that I find it difficult to relate to graduations. During high-school these got attached to the competitive education system, to social rank and status, to meritocracy and many more things that didn’t feel constructive to my development. Of course this doesn’t have to be the case for everyone, and I am very happy for people if the conventional education system worked well for them. But I felt a need to break with that system and explore how I could direct my own studies. To explore how it would be to connect with my own intentions, rather than responding to the expectations of my surroundings. To study holistically and experience-based, rather than mainly focusing on the mind and theory. To contribute to something meaningful and make the world a better place. And to do so in connecting with others, living in community, feeling a sense of belonging and connecting with Mother Earth.

With these intentions I started exploring, got lost, hit walls, turned in circles and found a sense of direction again. One of my major stepping stones on this journey was the ‘International Youth Initiative Program (’. This program enabled me to live in community with a diverse group of people, expand my personal & global awareness, co-host women's circles in Egypt, build my own compost toilet, taught me about story-telling, Art of Hosting and about Self-directed studies. It revealed to me the power of vulnerability and of rewilding, of uniting in solidarity and embracing unique gifts.

And while I would like to stick to my intention to write more about all these aspects of my self-directed studies (including YIP), I would just like to mention that applications of YIP14 are open :). And that YIP was the start of many more amazing journeys to follow. Explorations of dance, of biking from Germany to Turkey (while self-studying in community), journeys of climate justice, of taking courses at University, of practicing new ways of democracy, of glewing myself to the street, of polyamory, of inner & outer activism and so much more!

My 17 year old self found myself inexperienced, while my current self is daring greatly by diving into the mysteries of life. My 17 years old me didn’t know which study to pick because it all felt relevant and interesting. My current self isn't choosing one field of expertise, but is crafting a beautiful, holistic learning journey. My 17 years old self was hoping to break with individualism and find belonging and meaningful contribution. My 17 years old me was doubting to go into the beer-drinking student life, to which I didn’t feel attracted, but that seemed so ‘cool’.

I am grateful that I didn’t let my doubts and insecurities take over. I am grateful to have taken the courage to follow what feels real and authentic. To be adventurous, curious, vulnerable and daring. And I am grateful for everyone holding me on this journey. Assuring me, caring for me, mirroring me, supporting me in crawling up again and getting in touch with myself after dissociating and disconnecting. Thank you.

Reading my graduation letter, I most of all realized that my 17 years old self knew me really well. Knowing how sensitive I was and am to ‘high-performance culture’, to undermining my health for things that feel bigger than me. And knowing my concerns about the state of the world. About fascism rising, the climate crisis, white supremacy, sexism and polarization. These things haven’t changed.

I didn’t graduate today, but I am celebrating to be a life-long learner, practicing self-directed studies. Acknowledging that this journey doesn't know an end. And that I will keep on hitting walls, turning in circles and find direction again. Although it might not know an end, it does transition to different phases. And today I am celebrating that I am transitioning.

In the coming weeks I will share more about how I have directed my studies and with what kind of things. But for now, I will enjoy my little appreciation and learning circle of pine cones. Celebrating life, celebrating learning and the unlimited possibilities in which learning can show up and can be celebrated.

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