A Senior Reflection–Lizzie Kelley



This column was submitted by senior Lizzie Kelley, a member of the class of 2018. 

It’s a familiar scene: I’m sitting next to a window at the West Lake Forest Starbucks, sipping on my unsweetened green tea lemonade (basic, I know), and the clock is slowly approaching four o’clock as I decide to push off my stats homework for another hour. Probably two. People pass by in a procession of coffees and refreshers and cappuccinos, and we all go about business as usual. Except today, something feels different.

Maybe it’s nothing more than the date: May 20th. Less than three weeks from graduation. Less than three weeks left at the place I’ve called home for four short years.

But maybe not.

Maybe it’s the fact that a little girl in a ballerina bun and bright Old Navy t-shirt keeps peeking over her dad’s shoulder to stare at her surroundings in wonder as I type. It was only yesterday, I realize, that the little girl was me.

Or maybe it’s the steady procession of middle schoolers that stride in, confidently waving a gift card they got for their birthday and showing off their new phone case and choker necklace to the herd of friends that surrounds them. As they leave with their double-chocolate chip frappuccinos, I see again that yesterday, I was right there with them.

Or yet, it could be the college kids working behind the counter, the grad student next to me furiously typing a final thesis, the mom balancing two kids–one on each hip–while reaching for her minivan keys, and the old couple quietly holding hands while reading The Wall Street Journal that makes me realize that tomorrow, I could be any one of them.

So here I sit, still working on that green tea and listening to my Spotify recommendations like any other Sunday, but now coming to the very real conclusion that I’m flat out of yesterdays and facing a life chock-full of tomorrows.

From here, my thoughts get pretty dizzying. Unlike that little girl, I retired my ballet shoes years ago, and haven’t had a frappuccino in a hot minute either. Graduation is less than three weeks away, the last day of school less than two. Friends will soon be scattered across the country, each donning a different school’s sweatshirt for the first time in years. Family will be far away for the first time in my short life, and our Sunday dinners are now being planned over FaceTime.

With this realization–this truth of leaving and change and newness that is hitting me square in the chest–I start thinking about choice.

For those of you who know me, you know how much I love Oprah. (If you think Josh from Drake and Josh level love for that lady, you’re pretty much spot on.)  She lives a life that is unapologetically hers, and completely owns every moment in it. I have a lot of respect for that kind of wisdom and self-knowledge. One of my favorite lines from her book “What I Know For Sure” (and one of my favorite quotes ever, of we’re being honest) reads as follows: “Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” It’s a simple idea at first–live in the moment and appreciate life as it comes. Okay, easy enough.

But if we stop, breathe, and put a little thought into it, we soon realize that truly existing only in the present is much easier said than done. We live in a world that pushes us to think five steps down the road, and plan at least ten steps ahead. We’re encouraged to leave those frappaccino and ballet-bun days in the past and move forward into the future. Why? Well, because it’s the future.

What we’re rarely reminded to do, though, is appreciate the now. More than appreciate it, even–to move with it, live in it.

With less than ten days of school left, all we’re being told is to enjoy these last few days of childhood bliss. It’s one of those rare moments where knowing for sure we have this moment is truly celebrated. Times are changing and people with it, but for this shining moment we’re told to treasure the time we have left.

So let’s take this next week and a half to choose to actually do just that, to actually celebrate it.

Let’s hang out with our best friends. Let’s say hi to each other as much as we can in the halls, because you never know when that hello might be the last one. Let’s thank our teachers and remind them how much they’ve impacted our lives. Let’s spend time at the beach. Let’s make Chick-fil-a runs after a night of playing Paranoia. Let’s print out pictures from the past four years and hang them up somewhere important. Let’s just do more of what makes us happy, and not worry too much about housing or meal plans or summer jobs or whatever else is stressing us out.

Let’s just take the next ten days to remember a time when graduation seemed ages away, and when our only worries were spelling tests, dance recitals, and if we’d make it home in time to watch “Scooby Doo” reruns on Cartoon Network.

Even if sometimes the days seem long, I’m just starting to realize that life is so short. I mean really short. All you really need to do is sit in a Starbucks long enough to recognize this truth. We have ten days left–ten fleeting days–with the people we’ve known for the past eighteen years. Some of the people sitting next to us in class, we may never see again. It’s a hard concept to wrap our heads around, but it’s a sad truth of growing up and facing the reality of our unique futures.

And with these looming changes, it’s important to keep in mind that while our tomorrows are bright, each one is incredibly uncertain. Maybe they will lead us to frantic thesis writing at four p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, or maybe it will result in, sixty years down the road, holding a loved one’s hand as we flip through the business section of the local paper on a brown leather couch while Van Morrison plays softly in the background.

But that’s a thought for eleven days from now. For now, I’m just going to polish off that green tea, take Oprah’s advice, and appreciate this moment–this crazy, wonderful, strangely peaceful moment–because it really is the only one I have for sure.