Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

Warning: Extreme nostalgia and wistfulness ahead.

From sadness to elation, soon-to-be graduating seniors all over the country are probably experiencing the gamut of emotions right now. We’ve conquered SATs, AP classes, college applications, and navigated four years of adolescent limbo. But it’s hard not to look back at the four years and reminisce. Whether we look back at them fondly or with disdain, it’s been an important stage that undoubtedly shaped our growth. As graduation looms in the horizon, creeping closer and closer, we’re reminded of the best and worst memories, regrets, and hopes as we look to the future, wherever it may take us.

A First Time For Everything

From freshman to senior year, high school has been chock-full of firsts. Never has there been a better time to embrace our youthful freedom and just let everything go. Hansel Romero of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School fondly remembers a time of pure, unadulterated fun. “In February, I ran a benefit concert at my high school and my band performed. We knew it could be one of our last shows together, so we just wanted to have fun with it. Turns out, there were something like 200 of our peers out in that audience cheering us on, brought together by the cause and music. Walking off that stage after we finished is something I won’t ever forget.” Ultimately for Romero, he hopes he can bring people together for something bigger than just himself, whether it’s through small actions or larger ones. (A plus, he added, is falling off stage onto a piano during his performance and continuing to play.)

Growing Up Too Fast 

It’s not too late to build memories and friendships even this late in the game, though. This rings especially true for Annie Makielski. “A majority of my high school career–even all the way back to my middle school years–I’ve wanted to just graduate and get out of the town I live in. I held this view until very recently, when I started becoming close friends with an incredible group of sophomores around August. For me, who used to only have two or three close friends, gaining them completely changed how I went about a lot of my life.” But this also makes saying goodbye a lot more difficult and regrets for not doing so earlier even more bittersweet, “Now, I find myself really upset when I have to think about graduation–yet still excited and happy. I want to be done with high school, but I get upset at the idea of having to leave the people I now adore and truly regret not spending more time with them before and not branching out like I have since meeting them.”

Sometimes, we just can’t wait to get to college that when the time finally comes to leave high school behind, it’s harder than we thought it would be. It might be friends, our home, and the feeling of security we prepare to leave behind, but time does leave a mark. It’s even more difficult not to feel some degree of regret. “Shoulda, coulda, woulda” as they say.

But for others like Clare Hanlon, a senior at Greenwich Academy in Connecticut, there’s a feeling of disconnect that emerges after spending four years with the same group of friends. “Recently I’ve been getting pretty fed up with my friends. It’s not necessarily any of their faults, it’s just that we’ve all changed as people over these past four years and I just don’t find myself as compatible with them as I used to be.” Sometimes, people begin to outgrow each other, a completely normal, albeit melancholic, part of growth and change.

But Hanlon also realized the importance of ending the year on a positive note without any regrets saying, “I was talking with my mom and found myself saying that I was ‘just trying to tolerate everyone till the end of the school year.’ But as soon as I said that, I realized how dumb and not to mention immature I was being. I only have a month left with my friends! After all the great times we’ve had, I certainly don’t want to end on such a low note.”

Southern California Online Academy student Victoria Sinclair also leaves a word of sage advice to juniors soon to experience the pre-college process themselves soon. “I was so busy and consumed with college/scholarship apps and trying to be ahead of the game that I didn’t have an ‘easy year’ like everyone says. Now that the college app process is over, even though I’m still filling out scholarship apps, I’m sitting here thinking where did the year go?” Don’t be so caught up in the future, that the year ends up zooming by in the blink of an eye.

The Uncharted Future 

Seniors at every high school will be branching out into hundreds of different paths leading them to opposites sides of the country and hidden corners of the world. But whatever the case, the one uniting factor is that college is unchartered territory for everyone. With this uncertainty comes wishful thinking, abundant hopes, and a good deal of anxiety and fear of the unknown.

New year, new me? For fellow TP intern Heather Weaver, one of the most important aspects of moving on to college is that there’s a lot of hope for growth and improvement. “I’m going to a college I didn’t know about in a city I’d never seen. I’ve also grown out of my shyness a lot—this year I talk to people sometimes and smile in the hallways for no reason, and I don’t worry so much about looking stupid. I’ve always known that people are just people and I shouldn’t be so afraid of them, but I never really internalized that until this year. I’m amazed by how much stuff people can figure out in just a few years, and I hope I’ll improve a lot more in college.”

Maybe college really is the perfect setting to grow, not just as an intellectual mind, but as a character too. Maybe fantasies won’t match up with reality (it rarely ever does). But maybe reality will end up being better than anything we ever could’ve hoped for. It’s this uncertainty that makes it a truly worthwhile and exciting prospect.

So here’s to us, all the seniors, who have worked hard and spent many a sleepless night getting to this point. It’s been quite the journey and it’s one that is worth looking back on, but it’s also important to keep one foot in front of the other. As we throw our tassels into the air and put on that shiny graduation robe, let’s take a moment to celebrate everything that has lead us to this moment and for all the even greater moments that await us.

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the author

Jilliann Pak hails from the suburbs of SoCal but is currently attending school across the coast at Johns Hopkins University. When she’s not complaining about the cold weather or sleeping in the library, she’s probably eating, cuddled up into a blanket burrito, or watching Parks and Recreation, preferably all at once.

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