Senior year: caps and gowns, pranks and privileges, laughter and tears. It is the pinnacle–the last, most highly coveted year of the high school journey. It is the time that you dream of, from the moment you walk through the doors of high school on the first day of freshman year. Senior year has been all that and more for me. Yet, as I look back upon all of my high school years, I realize that there is one year that can compete with this final chapter in the journey–the first. Maybe it is because the fear and apprehension of freshman year starts so intensely and the feelings are in such stark contrast to the confidence and connectedness of senior year that they truly serve as almost even bookends on this journey in life. Almost even, that is. Both are so important, so unique, but there is one that shines a bit brighter than the other. Is it freshmen year with all the newness and raw opportunity that lies ahead? Or is it senior year, comfortable as an old shoe, filled with memories and the miles walked together? For some, the answer may be clear. For many others, it may take some reflection to see which year is best – the first or the last?
Ah, the glorious days of simpler times. No fear of the future looming large on the road ahead of you, nor the memories of the past quickly fading in the rear view mirror. All you have to worry about is what is happening right then and the road of life stretches well down the road with nothing but possibilities ahead. As I recently strolled through the upper commons filled with seniors, I began to ask my peers – the resident royalty, the current ‘kings and queens of the campus’ – what they missed most from their freshman year. Of course, the first answer I heard was, “The old snack shop!” which was quickly followed by, “ I mean, the new coffee shop is nice, but nothing beats the old snack shop. I mean, those cookie sandwiches were just…” as eyes cast skyward in a dreamy state of chocolate memories. After long talks about how good the ‘old snack shop’ was, and stories swapped about between what made it so special, the conversation finally shifted. I finally started getting different answers that varied from old hairstyles to old feelings. The most consistent upside pointed out by seniors was the innocence they felt during freshman year. Naivety about the pressure of performance and life decisions that could alter their future. None of that seemed to matter when we were freshman. Perhaps a few could look that far out, but most of us were just concerned about today, tomorrow, and maybe the upcoming weekend, but never years ahead. Many students did not feel the immense pressure on their shoulders and did not feel overburdened with commitments and activities they are now involved in during senior year. As a freshman, you don’t need to worry about where you are going to college because it still seems a lifetime away. You don’t need to worry about what you will be doing on your own for the next four years of your life. As a freshman, I took that aspect of the early years for granted. This needs to truly be enjoyed because by the time junior and senior year rolls around, it will be a non-stop topic of conversation and it often gets overwhelming. All seniors agree that as a freshmen there is no need to stress over this; the only things to worry about are your current grades and keeping them where you want them. As the conversations among the elder statesman of the commons went on, the topic changed from what we missed on a mental level to what we missed physically about freshman year. A few students mentioned the Student Sections at games during freshman year and how people would stay for the full games and cheer until the end. They look back on the good memories of standing together as a student body cheering on the Scouts instead of showing up and leaving before the 3rd quarter even starts. That togetherness we felt then is what we still crave now. Other students talked nostalgically about some of the friendships they had lost since freshman year. As high school progresses, so does your friend group. Often the group of friends you enter the high school with evolves, and not all will end up as part of the same exact group of people when you leave some short time later. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is good to branch out and create new friendships, just be careful about who you leave behind.
After I spoke with the seniors, and we finished reminiscing about the best parts of freshman year, I asked them about what they through were the toughest parts of that first year. Of course the first answer I got was a sarcastic “Well for starters, we were FRESHMEN.” Even though this comment was meant to be a joke, it was not necessarily wrong. Coming into high school as a freshman can be very intimidating. I remember the days of avoiding walking through the commons in fear of being spotted by a senior. Once the transition is over it is not too bad, but the beginning weeks can bring plenty of unneeded stress and anxiety. But this simple answer does not stop there. Along with being the innocent freshman, you are also the clueless freshman. The first year of high school is filled with ups and downs and countless learning experiences, but many of these same experiences are what make freshman year so miserable. The same learning experiences that will shape you as you travel through high school can often feel like world-ending obstacles. The seniors continued on talking about how they hated the classes they took freshman year. Required courses that left no time to try something you might learn just for the enjoyment. There was, of course, the occasional whine about taking the bus, dealing with freshman locker locations, getting lost, missing the athletic bus, and all of the normal pitfalls of that first year. Freshman year is an interesting year in high school. For some, it is the springboard that launches them into high school, ready to fly through the the next four years, while for others and can be just a series of obstacles that slows them down in their journey through the halls of LFHS.
After I finished talking with the wise sages of the senior class about freshman year, I moved onto what they liked most about senior year. For every person I talked to, from the instant they heard this question they began to list off all the amazing things about senior year. Nearly all started the list with the privileges associated with senior year, including the chance to leave campus. The highly coveted off-campus privileges of senior year gives students all the freedom they could ask for. At the beginning of this school year, the school changed the off-campus policy, which immediately caused the incoming senior class to speak out in fear of losing their special privilege. Sound reason prevailed, and thankfully everything went back to normal and seniors soon had their off-campus privileges back. After finishing the speeches about the greatness of off-campus privilege, one student continued to talk about the idea of just being “almost done.” The idea of almost being finished with high school is what leads some seniors to declare senior year as the best one. For many, the last three years have been the most stressful and frustrating years of their lives, and they are ready to move onto the next chapter. The one thing I found very interesting while talking to seniors was the the debate whether senior year was stressful or not. While some said they had never been so stressed, constantly worrying about college and what they were going to do for the next four years, others went on and on as to how they had never felt as stress-free as they feel right now. Part of this stress-free feeling could be contributed to the fact that seniors are not required to take as many core classes as they have had to in the past. With many students already completing all credits required in a particular subject area, they are now free to take classes that truly interest them, which usually leads to a happier student. But the other part of this could be maturity. As a student moves through his or her high school career, they learn from their mistakes and eventually feel confident with the decisions they are making. Being at a school for three years causes you to stress less about everything in general. As the conversations went on, some of the topics became less serious–such as the inherent dominance some seniors seem to feel over the underclassman. Even driving to school came up many times. It is the small things that many seniors appreciate, for example, driving; students would still have no problem getting to school if they did not drive themselves, but is the convenience and freedom that makes it so nice. To close, I asked the students what they hate about senior year. Instead of hearing countless complaints I heard one simple answer, “Honestly, nothing.” Now obviously this isn’t everyone’s viewpoint, but the majority of students had nothing bad to say about senior year. Senior year will be your last year, so make memories, maintain friendships, and don’t worry to much. Make it one last year that is your best one yet. Maybe it will even be the best year of high school.
So what year of high school is the best? Is it the innocent, freshman year that is full of new experiences and opportunities? Or is it the last hurrah, senior year, a year filled with relaxation and freedom? After long talks with many seniors around the school, the consensus was clear: freshman year was fun for some, and many want to relieve some of the old days, but senior year is clearly superior. The stresses of senior year are high, but for most, the joys are higher. So underclassman, get excited for senior year! It will be here before you know it and it tends to fly by. And seniors, enjoy the year while you can. After all, it is your last.