This year, I teach two classes of seniors, as well as a Senior Advisory class. From a teacher’s perspective, it has been so interesting to watch my seniors as they have moved through their senior year and all of the things that come with it, namely senioritis. At the beginning of the year, they are ready to rule the school. They want to leave their mark. The end of the year and the unknown future seemed too far away to care about. As the year progressed, they started to make decisions about their future. They also get obnoxious and annoying. In January, I may or may not have told my seniors that they were making it very easy for their teachers to say goodbye to them come June. I was only half kidding.
When we returned from spring break, it was very apparent that the reality of the future had started to set it. For the most part, students had made decisions about their next steps, whether that was college, technical schools, full-time employment, or the military. “Senior Freak Out Season,” as I would call it, has officially begun. The past few weeks, my seniors have been swarming to me as they freak out about their next steps. What if I don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life? What if my best friends aren’t my best friends anymore? What if I can’t make it work with my significant other? What if I don’t like my school? What if I picked the wrong school? if school isn’t right for me? What if I miss home? What if college is hard? What if? What if? What if?
I’m not always sure what they want from me. Is it a listening ear? Is it advice? Is it assurance that it’s all going to be okay? Is it something from my candy stash? Is it a lenient grade on an upcoming test? I make sure to give them a listening ear. If there is advice to be given, I give it. I can never tell them that it will all work out the way they want it to, but I can assure them that it will all work out the way it is supposed to. If they start to cry, I give them candy, because I’m just never too sure what to do with tears.
My own senior freak out happened at the kitchen counter, the day after my senior prom. I was soaking my fake nails to take them off when my mom asked me some simple question. I lost it. Full blown lost it. Granted, I was sleep deprived. The poor woman tried to console me and figure out what was wrong. In my blubbering, I told her I didn’t know if I had made the right college choice. Everyone else was staying close to home or going to a school with people they know. I essentially made my college decision because their was a bagel place on campus and a pretty lake. Who makes major life decisions like that?! Why was I a math major? Math was so hard! I don’t know how to make friends! I’m too weird! What if you and dad forget about me? What if my roommate is terrible? What if I’m ruining my entire life?
She told me to stick with my path but know that it wasn’t permanent. If I got to Carthage and it wasn’t the right place for me, then I would find the right place. If math wasn’t a good major for me, I would change it. My true high school friends would be there long after graduation, and I would make new friends. She hugged me and told me to take a nap. I always assumed she probably had her own little freak out after me. After all, she had just put a big deposit down on a very expensive education I was questioning. That wasn’t the only freak out that happened in that kitchen. Post college graduation and accepting my first teaching position, I spent many summer mornings attempting to convince her to pay for me to find myself in Europe or go back to school or anything to not have to face the real world. I had made a decision and I had no way of knowing if it was the right one. There was also the phone call after I had moved into my first real apartment and filled out all of my HR work for my job where I was essentially saying, “thanks, but I don’t think I really want to be an adult anymore” between sobs. The meanest thing you can do to your parent’s hearts is cry about things that they can’t fix.
When I look at my seniors, I feel for them. For the first time in most of their lives, they are facing the unknown. They are preparing to pave their own paths. They’ve been coloring by numbers up until this point and suddenly they have a blank canvas to fill. I want to tell them in the nicest way possible that to my knowledge, this is what life will feel like from here on out. The future is always uncertain.
It can be scary to look out into the unknown. Even if you think you know exactly what you want your life to look like, I can guarantee that it won’t turn out that way. You will question if you are making the right choice. You will feel alone. You will make mistakes and backtrack and start from scratch. Friends and loves will drift away. Terrible, awful, ugly things that you could never imagine will happen and turn your world upside down. Your heart will hurt. You will be disappointed.
In Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Kerouac writes, “But why think about that when all the golden land’s ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?” It was actually my Facebook cover photo for a good long while, so you know I dig it. I think of it often when thoughts of the future get a little too scary. As scary as the unknown future is, I can speak from previous experience when I say I know it is also filled with wonderful, unexpected things. It is filled with friendship and relationships that will make you a better person. It is filled with unimaginable surprises and adventures. You will meet people who will change you. You will experience things that make you who you are. You will end up in the most unexpected of places. Your heart will feel whole. You will learn to embrace the unknown in your own time. You might sit on your balcony and write a blog post about it all. You might realize you have more questions now than you ever did and way less answers than you thought you would have. And it is okay because life always puts you right where you are supposed to be. It doesn’t look like what you thought it would look like. It looks even better.