30 Things Every High School Student Should Know: Lessons from Our Face of America Journey

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2010
Mussari Loftus Associates, LTD

This is the time of year when thousands of students will walk onto the stage to accept their high school diplomas. It is one of the most important events in the life a teenager. It is a moment of pride for parents, teachers, administrators and school board members.

Those of us who sit in the audience to celebrate these events often wonder how prepared graduates are for the bumps on the road of life.

As my wife and I travel the country searching for the Face of America we have an opportunity to talk with people from all walks of life. Often times we ask them this question: “If you were asked to speak at a high school graduation what would you say to the graduates?  Another variation of the question goes like this: “What do you think high school graduates should know when they graduate.”

What follows here is a list of some of the things we have heard and recorded during our journey.

It is not offered as an alternative curriculum.  It is not an attempt to replace the traditional subjects that educators use to measure literacy.

On the contrary, it is what one might call “value added.”

For the past nine months I have been a visiting teacher at North Plainfield High School in North Plainfield, New Jersey.  I had the opportunity to visit with students at the historic Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The memories of the precious moments I shared with students, teachers and administrators in North Plainfield give me a reason to record these thoughts. They are intended to reinforce many of the things the students I met learned in their classes, in the hallways, during their club meetings and athletic events.

I believe these are some of the things that will help students to formulate a philosophy of life and a definition of success that will give them inner peace and happiness.

1. Know the Constitution.
2. Know how to balance a checkbook.
3. Know how to find information.
4. Know what is going on around you.
5. Know how to say thank you.
6. Know how to be responsible.
7. Know how to be proactive.
8. Know how to differentiate yourself.
9. Know how to be independent.
10. Know how to be on time.
11. Know how to establish reasonable expectations.
12. Know that leadership begins with teamwork.
13. Know how to be considerate.
14. Know how to be kind.
15. Know how to be generous with your talents.
16. Know how to be thoughtful.
17. Know the importance of protecting your good name.
18. Know how to take care of your heart.
19. Know the value of these five words: “How can I help you?”
20. Know how to be a dream weaver.
21. Know the power of a sense of humor.
22. Know how to build a prayer life.
23. Know how to own up for your mistakes.
24. Know the power of a sincere apology.
25. Know how to reach out for help.
26. Know the power of perception.
27. Know that a free society is a place where it is safe to be unpopular.
28. Know that money, power, and fame do not guarantee happiness.
29. Know that service to others will give you the most joyful kind of happiness you will ever experience.
30. Know that America is a beautiful place, and it is your job to keep it that way.

I believe the great American humorist, Will Rogers, got it right when he said: “If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing.  Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.”

Another important element was best described in seven words by Coach Jim Valvano: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

From my heart to your heart, congratulations, and may good fortune always be your friend.


Please provide feedback to: tmussari@gmail.com