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Making the most of your last year of high school

Greetings, those of you approaching graduation! Has your existential dread set in yet? Do you number among those afflicted with senioritis?

When I submitted the last of my college apps, it was as if my head cleared from an 18-month stupor. I’d spent months looking through locations and trying to imagine what my life could be like there, and suddenly my future was out of my hands. Would I be in suburban Chicago come next fall, or upstate New York? Would my school have good arts programs? Would it be one of the few places I’d manage to visit before the pandemic hit, or would I find myself in a place I’d never seen before? So, I didn’t really go through senioritis, but I did get a healthy dose of existential dread.

I understand freaking out. It’s your last year! You’ve got four years worth of friends and building relationships with your teachers and mentors, you’re living in a place where you’ve presumably spent many of your formative years, with the people who raised you, and you know that at some point soon, your day-to-day life is going to change in a significant way. And the same is true of many of your friends, which means you’re probably having trouble leaving the panic mentality behind.

The first thing I’ll tell is to breathe. Take a minute, stop letting the anxiety win. I know that finding out your college decisions seems like the most important thing that will ever happen to you, but I promise that your life will keep going on no matter what. Whether you start college next fall, or plan to take some time off before heading off into the great unknown, you will still exist a year from now. And wherever you find yourself, you will figure it out.

What should you do for the remainder of your high school days? My biggest relief was not stressing about my grades anymore. I was finally free not to worry about how my work would affect my college prospects, and could focus on learning for the sake of it and wanting to do well for myself. Take the time to enjoy what you love, you might have forgotten how much you love it because of the horror that is filling out the Common App Activities section. You could pick up a new hobby, just for you, and partake in the joys of discovery.

Next, give yourself time to celebrate your relationships. Sunday morning walks with your family, catching movies with the friends you grew up with; you’ll still have each other no matter where you go live next year, but you probably won’t be just a drive away. Get together and decide of how you’ll want to stay in contact: you could set up a monthly Zoom meeting with your extended friend group, or make a pact to call home every other day until you feel settled. Go through your photos and decide the ones you’ll take with you to put on your walls. My friends and I spontaneously had a photo shoot in the park one day (which is where I got the picture above, featuring my lovely friend Morgane).

Take a look around you and make a bucket list. Visit the museum you’ve been putting off since forever, go back to playgrounds you loved as a kid, go to the waterpark one last time. Return to your favorite memories, and consciously decide to make new ones you can take with you in the next phase of your life. In my case, I grew up in Paris but always knew I’d want to come back to the States for college. I had no idea what my life was going to look like returning to my home culture and taking classes in English for the first time in ten years. The difference in social conventions made me nervous, and I couldn’t even ask my friends’ older siblings, since no one else had gone away.

Give yourself time for reflection. While you stand at the border of unprecedented opportunity for reinvention, change won’t happen overnight. Think about yourself, what you like about your life and relationships, and things you’d be open to improving or trying to do differently. If you lived in a small area and never had the chance to find people with shared identities, chances are you’ll have better luck in a bigger pond.

Make a list of goals. You don’t have to win everything in your first year of college, get the best grades, or become the most social butterfly, but having a few concrete objectives will keep you grounded and help guide your first few steps into adult life. Maybe you want to learn one new skill, or make three new friends. Whatever you decide for yourself, wherever you end up, I promise you that life will go on.

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