Today is April 24, 2009. One year ago today was April 24, 2008. I was a senior in high school. I was three weeks away from graduation. I was finished with speech, performing in my first and last high school play, studying for my AP exams, choosing a college. I spoke a complicated language of percentiles, scholarships, Sparta, prom, GPAs, the lyrics of “Forever Young”, dorm rooms, graduation shoes, Baccalaureate and Decision Day. Every high school senior I know spoke the same language. It was like a switch flipped in our brains on the first day of senior year and suddenly Senior-Speak was our second (or third) language. I’m fairly certain that this is a universal symptom of seniors everywhere. I’m also fairly certain that this week is the same week my mom and I drove to Milwaukee so I could make sure I didn’t want to go to school there. Maybe even the same day we got a flat tire right outside of Chicago and didn’t get home until about 2am, and then went to school the next day and transformed myself into Betsy Ross and George H.W. Bush that night. About five days before I decided to attend SHC and sent that fateful letter.
Choosing college was so much fun…until about 365 days ago. I was so desperate at one point I asked my friends to vote on which school had the prettier pen and best mascot. College searches themselves were fun-like being in an academic candy store. I skipped two days of school to work on applications and I never missed school when I was sick. I even went to school on picture day one year when I was sick. I have since burned these pictures and retaken new ones, but the point is I only missed school for college. So ironic.
I wish last year I could see myself this year. Maybe if I could see myself now, I wouldn’t have felt so scared, so confused, no idea what I wanted to do. I made the right choice. I knew that then, and I know that now. But it didn’t stop me from freaking out every five minutes, or from asking every single person I met where I should go to college. It makes me smile to think of the almost two hour conversation I had with my parents that evaluated every single aspect of every single school. When I emerged, I was relieved. I knew where I was going to college. I finally had the answer to the all-important question. I was going to SHC. Nothing could stop me. I was going to be a Badger. And now that I am a Badger, I can’t imagine being anything else. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. This is where I’m supposed to be.
The last weeks of high school seem so far away. In August, it will be two years since I started my last year of high school. These next couple weeks mark the first year since I’ve graduated from high school, but I feel like I’ve been away for years. When I visited my high school over Spring Break, I still felt at home, but at the same time I was detached. Those halls didn’t belong to me anymore. I still held stock in them, but they belonged to a new group of seniors, with their sweatshirts and prom dresses and college jargon. The crowd of students doesn’t part for me anymore when I walk through it because I don’t wear that special sweatshirt and have that same supreme self-confidence that comes from being a high school senior and knowing that you are the shiz.
I’m convinced that there is no similar feeling in the world to being a high school senior. The can-do attitude, the sense of humor, the impending sense of doom, the hopes, the dreams, the sheer force of will and determination, the pride, the bittersweetness. Every senior always says take more pictures, but there are never enough. I never really cried about graduating. On the last day of school, just before walk-out, I was in choir, hugging everyone, when Ms. President turned around and hugged me and was bawling. That’s when I lost it. But I stopped a few minutes later. And I didn’t cry at Baccalaureate or Honors or Graduation. I did cry when I read my first copy of the Alumnae newsletter, because that’s when I realized I really had graduated. I thought I would cry so much more when I graduated, but I never did. The first long, hard cry I had after graduation was August 18, my last day at home. I sobbed for about 18 hours straight. I had no idea it would hurt so much to leave home. I knew it would hurt, but I didn’t think it would hit me until I was actually at school. Mom and I both fully expected that I would cry myself to sleep on the first night, but I didn’t. I fell asleep reading with a pen in my hand and got a ginormous ink stain on my pillow. No tears, no snot. Quite normal.
But one year ago today, I was still a senior in high school. I was focused on analyzing e.e. cummings, memorizing irregular French idioms and the parts of the brain, planning my funeral for my last theology project, and learning the descant for “The Rose”. It was impossible to think beyond May 17. So I didn’t. I took my exams, even writing “This is Sparta” in a couple AP essays, one of which I wrote in fifteen minutes. I picked out my graduation announcements and learned about tassel etiquette. I had a blast at Senior Field Day, but missed the big flag football game because I was celebrating Speech. I was chosen as Most Outgoing in my high school class and sang and laughed at Baccalaureate. I woke up one morning to flamingoes in my front yard, and before I knew it, my name was called and I walked across a stage in the highest heels I’ve ever worn, received my diploma case, switched my tassel, turned my ring, sang the Alma Mater and became a high school graduate. Just like that.
It boggles my mind when I think about my high school senior self. I can’t comprehend that I was that girl, that senior. I’ve lived the life that she had, and I’m still living the life she dreamed about when she read all those college brochures and then sat on that couch and made the biggest decision of her life. I can’t believe I didn’t cry more. And I can’t believe I didn’t take more pictures. To high school students everywhere: take more pictures. Always, always take more pictures.
P.P.S. I didn’t hear this song until after I graduated, but it says it all. Only four years. My, how they do fly.
“True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.