Each year as the grass begins to turn green, leaves and petals blossom on trees and flowers bloom, end of the year celebrations within schools begin. Once the prom season is officially over, the senior class knows the next big step ahead is one they have looked towards since their first school days begun.
With graduation being the closing chapter of their high school career and only a few weeks away, emotions always run high this time of year. Not only for the parents and grandparents of their children and grandchildren that seems to have grown up overnight, but also for the graduates themselves, as they know this is the first step into adulthood.
Every day closer to graduation, parents grow frantic planning each intricate part of the parties they hold to celebrate and commemorate the occasion. Wondering if they have misplaced any special photographs to have on display? How many people should they prepare food for in planning for the party? Did they remember to invite each person that has been a positive influence on your child’s journey to this joyous event?
As I am personally questioning each of these myself this year along with many more having a high school senior, I know this is all part of the process. I am preparing myself to be stressed out more each day along with the occasional breakdown or twenty along the way.
My own fears and stresses however are minor compared to what the kids themselves may be experiencing. While some may be overjoyed and more than ready to tackle the next step of this thing we call life, others may shed tears and wonder if they made the most of their high school days. They will begin to think back to each pivotal moment of their teen years.
Those long told sayings so many heard before of “enjoy high school while it lasts because it goes by so fast”, flicker in their minds. As well as homecoming football games, school dances, decorated lockers, friendships old and new and hanging out in the school parking lot on weekends.
As adults that have already passed this stage in life know, the first day in high school as a freshman is without a doubt the most stressful day in your life up until that point. The fear of being a little fish in a big sea is without a doubt overwhelming.
“My biggest fear going into high school was being on a team with so many older girls and being in classes with older people I didn’t know,” said upcoming 2019 Wayne graduate Aubrey Bennett. “I was always worried about making one of them mad or making it so they didn’t like me.”
“I came from a bigger school my freshman year and my biggest fear was associating myself with the wrong group of people and being viewed as the wrong person,” said fellow upcoming 2019 Wayne graduate Hunter Cobb.
Even as adults, we have all struggled with the fear of someone not liking us at some point, whether it dates back to school days or more in the present to our work place experiences. We have feared our successes in life, may cause others to look at us in negative ways as well as fearing encounters with new people we meet along the way.
“Freshman year was a scary year for me since I moved schools,” said former Wayne student and 2018 East Union graduate Sidney McFee. “I was so worried about making sure I was "fitting in" and making sure people liked me that I never thought of myself or what I wanted to be doing or who I wanted to be. I also found myself putting up with a bunch of negative people in an attempt to fit in.”
Our children enter the big world of high school fresh in their teen years. Some of them struggle finding their place to fit in, making it a daily battle of being caught up in being someone even they don’t recognize. Others realize being true to themselves is most important no matter how they may be viewed.
“My biggest fear had to be fitting in,” said Taylor Curry, an upcoming 2019 Wayne graduate. “A little bit through my freshman year I was afraid, but I stopped caring. I dyed my hair bright pink and told myself “you don’t need to worry about them and what they think of you.”
Curry quickly adjusted and even though others would stare at her bold style, she wore wigs and makeup without fear. She found joy dressing for the cosplay world and regardless of how others viewed her style and at times bullied her, she stayed true to herself.
Becoming involved in extra curricular activities such as athletics and clubs within the school help to broaden your horizons while allowing you to get to know the upper classmen you may fear. Being a freshman on varsity teams is a scary thought in itself and can add even more pressure to students.
“A lot of pressure was put on me when I was offered varsity spots on high level teams our school had my freshman year,” said Cobb. “If you mess up something it can be held against you for the rest of the season.”
“When I began high school I was always worrying about the upper classmen not liking me and finding reasons to be mean,” said another upcoming 2019 Wayne graduate Jacinda Reed. “I thought they wouldn’t have time for us under classmen but being involved in sports helped tremendously because they were once the new freshmen like we were and treated us fairly like the others.”
As each teen adjusts to life their freshman year, time passes by. Sometimes too often, students can have a less than desired high school experience and count down the days until they can be gone from the halls forever.
With the growth of social media playing a huge impact on teens today, it can make the high school experience one that is traumatizing and can leave scars for many years to come. Nearly every teen, whether considered popular or not, has had a negative experience with social media today.
The kids of this generation have grown up in the technology world and these modern day advancements have only added to the high school experience. Any graduate from the 1960’s through 1990’s could say high school had its difficult moments, and that was before social media took front stage.
“Social media has a huge effect on everything now,” said former Wayne student and upcoming 2019 East Union graduate Macy McFee. “It can drag people through hell and back and is a very fast way to bully people that hide behind a screen.”
“Drama is spread so fast with just the click of a few buttons,” said Bennett. “Also people don’t know how to solve their problems face-to-face or person-to-person. Instead they make passive aggressive posts on Twitter and hope that person sees it.”
Raeshel Andrews, a 2018 Wayne graduate and first year IHCC student agrees, “Social media has made times worse as it limits face-to-face interactions.”
Others believe there is a way to avoid negative social media interactions and use it for beneficial reasons.
“I would say with social media in high school, it just depends on the people you associate with and their maturity,” said Lane Kunzie, a first year Iowa State University student and 2018 Wayne graduate. “I rely on social media to connect with my friends across the nation and even the world. It mostly just relies on your maturity and if you have a want to be mature in situations. Most of those situations can be avoided by disassociating yourself with people who have a consistency for causing drama.”
“The best thing I ever did for myself in regards to social media was going through all my accounts including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat and unfollowing and/or unfriending anybody and everybody who I didn't know personally, who I didn't talk to and anybody that didn't bring joy directly to my life,” said Sidney. “I made a lot of people upset when they found out I unfollowed them, but it was what was best for me.”
Sure these kids have rules to follow not only from parents at home, but also rules within their school. In the end however, parents just want their kids to be the best people they can be, treat others with kindness and be happy in life. That includes doing what is best for themselves and learning to be independent for the next chapter that awaits.
We all have things in life we regret or wish we could go back and change. Unfortunately that isn’t how life works. You don’t get do-overs and second chances when it comes to your high school years. We can however give advice for those that follow behind in our footsteps.
“My biggest regret in high school is not doing everything to my full potential,” said Cobb. “To those younger, don’t waste your time on something if you’re not going to put in everything you have.”
“Upcoming freshmen need to try anything and everything to be involved with sports and activities to get the best experience of high school you can get,” said Reed. “You only get one chance in life and you need to make the most of it with the time you have.”
We have probably all said it once or twice before, the old saying of “high school years are the best years of your life”. High school is the time to be carefree and not have the financial worries adults do once entering the workforce to support yourself or a family. That doesn’t mean it is the best years of your life however.
“Those that are upcoming freshmen I would advise to always have fun and make connections with those around you,” said Bennett. “Don’t be so invested in trying to be the popular kid. High school goes by really fast, but they lie when they say it’s the best years of your life. Have fun and be a kid!”
“I don’t miss high school at all,” said Kunzie. “I loved my junior and senior years, but it was time to grow up. And honestly, my advice would be to not be afraid to move away. It makes you a better, more independent person and you will make so many new friends.”
As these local kids prepare for their final days in high school, they attribute their time in a smaller rural school with many great experiences they may not have had in a larger city school. The local connections of family and friends in smaller communities more often than not make for a better overall experience.
“I’ve noticed during senior nights at other schools, kids are not involved in very many activities,” said upcoming 2019 Wayne graduate Jessi Helseth. “In a smaller school we have been able to participate in many different things and still do well because we have a lot of support. Classes are more fun because the teachers know us and care about how we do. I’ve never been to any bigger school, but I wouldn’t want to trade my small town experience.”
“Growing up in a small town has a lot of benefits,” said Bennett. “The community is always supportive of the things we’re doing and tries their best to support our activities financially. They know us kids by name and are very involved with the school. I do wish we had more educational opportunities for students who work hard at school like honors classes or something along those lines, but with that being said, I wouldn’t trade the small town school for anything. The best part of being in a small school is definitely the community.”
“I wouldn’t have had the same opportunities (the World Food Prize) if I would’ve went to a larger school,” added Kunzie. “Kids in bigger schools compete before they go to the Iowa Youth Institute. Scholarships are a big advantage for going to smaller schools as well. I think growing up in a smaller town made me more respectful as a person and appreciative of people/things a lot more.”
With Wayne Community High School graduation being less than two weeks away, last year’s graduates leave advice for those that will once again find themselves as freshmen, but this time in the college level.
“College is easily the best experience of your life, even with the first year being a little scary,” said Sidney. “The best part about college is you can start fresh and rewrite your own story. No one knows you or anything about you. You can be whatever you want.”
Andrews added, “It’s not all fun and games though. You need to try your best even when you’ve gotten no sleep and always make time to call family.”
Not every graduate will or should attend college. And that’s okay as the world is in need of all variations of trade skilled employees to make the world go ‘round. Parents shouldn’t panic if our seniors don’t know what the next step may be.
When I graduated high school I knew I wanted to continue playing sports and pursue a career in graphic design and be in the advertising industry. It took myself a few decades along with trials and tribulations to be where I am today.
We can’t pressure our young adults to have their entire futures planned out. Instead we must allow them to step into the next phase and learn life on their own with a little guided help now and then.
Afterall, it’s a scary big world out there and we all could use help and advice every so often. Let them enjoy how far they’ve come and what lies ahead, as they will have many unknowns that awaits them.
To the 2019 graduates, no matter what route you chose in life, and what burdens you endure, it is your life to live. Every path taken will lead to a new adventure and that adventure is yours to own.