First-day-of-school photos have flooded my Facebook newsfeed, and it’s making me nostalgic. I haven’t had a first day of school since 2009, but every August I relive my various school experiences as the memories rush back.
Last week I saw a friend post a picture of her son’s first day of kindergarten juxtaposed with his first day as a senior in high school. I was immediately transported back to my first day of school as a senior. I can remember standing in the driveway for the obligatory “first day” photo, and inside, the excitement bubbled up and shot out of my enormous smile.
I’d made it. I was a senior. I was going to rule the school (albeit a rather small one), and I was going to have a great time doing it.
My sister had graduated two years before me, and I’d been impatient ever since to be the biggest fish in a small pond. I was fortunate to have had a really great junior high and high school experience replete with many extracurricular activities. And all of that greatness would culminate in that all-so-important senior year.
That day was 13 years ago, and sometimes, high school seems like it happened yesterday and other times it seems to have happened centuries ago. As I see all the sweet smiling faces of other students about to embark on an incredible journey—no matter what grade they are entering—I can’t help but think about some of the things I would tell myself back then to make the year even better.
1. Appreciate the past but don’t live in it.
I grew up in a very small town (population 48) and attended school in a just-slightly-larger town (population 200), so I had the same classmates all 13 years of school. And I loved it. At one time or another, I was friends with everyone, and we all knew everything about each other. Now that I’ve graduated and moved away, coming back home and seeing those friends is like being transported to another time.
I relish those moments, but I’m so grateful to have had the chance to move away. Why? Because you can’t miss what you see every day. Moving to another state offered the opportunity to meet new people and form new friendships, but it also made me grateful for the people and places I’d left behind. They know a part of me that few ever will.
2. Explore your options.
I was nervous about applying to colleges not in South Dakota. Nearly everyone I knew was planning to attend school in-state and I realized that by moving away I would be losing touch with people I’d just spent the last 13 years forming friendships with. But, I couldn’t help be drawn to promising programs in other states, so I applied.
Choosing NDSU for my undergraduate experience was a decision I have never regretted, even during that first year when the city, the school and everyone attending it was new and unfamiliar. Being forced out of your comfort zone is one of the best ways to truly understand who you are and what matters to you.
3. Be open to possibility.
This goes along with the idea of exploring your options because you can’t really explore if you aren’t open to possibility. But you have to go further than that. Every first day of school (or first day of anything) is an opportunity to learn something new and grow even more as an individual, so embrace those circumstances…even when you’re scared. Especially when you’re scared. Being nervous simply indicates you’re about to do something important. Be nervous. Then decide to be brave and open yourself to the possibility of what you’re about to embark on.
4. Thank your teachers.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and many don’t truly understand the lengths instructors go to in the effort to see students succeed. No matter what grade you are, thank your teachers for everything they do for you.
I was in the first semester of my graduate teaching assistantship when I was struck by the sheer force of gratitude I felt toward my high school teachers. I went home and wrote a very belated thank you card to one in particular who believed in me enough to encourage me to seek new opportunities I never would have seized on my own. Teachers are incredible people who pour their hearts and souls into the little people who grow up to be tomorrow’s leaders. You’ll never regret stopping to thank them for their dedication.
5. Savor every moment.
Everyone talks about how time flies by, and it does. The older you get, the fewer first experiences you have. The many “firsts” in life serve as memory markers by which you can recall the timeline of your life.
As a senior, you embark on many “firsts”, but also many “lasts” which is why you need to enjoy as much of the year as possible. Even the sad stuff. I’ll never forget the first few moments after our volleyball team lost the district championship game. I remember the ball shanking out-of-bounds and the other team erupting in cheers while I sank to my knees on the gym floor in disbelief, knowing I’d never play competitive volleyball again.
It was a sad moment, but one I still relish because of its importance in my life at the time. Of course, I remember many joyful moments from that final year of high school, but probably not as well as I would if I had slowed down every now and then just to savor the experience. Early in your life, you can’t wait for all the “firsts” to happen, but as you grow older, you realize you wished a lot of your life away in pursuit of your next “first” experience. Stop and bask in a random moment occasionally. You’ll be glad you did.