An Open Letter to the Incoming High School Senior

Dear Incoming HS Senior,

As the new school year quickly approaches (and for some of you, it has already begun) you may be carefully picking out your outfit for the first day or organizing your binders and school supplies or maybe you're just spending every moment you can at the pool with your friends before you're stuck inside for the 8 hours a day. Regardless, the voice in your head keeps reminding you you're a senior this year... which means everything's going to be different. 

For 12 years, the same routine. And now it's almost over. Part of you is probably feeling anxious about all the big decisions and altering moments you'll face. Part of you is probably just ready to move on. But in the midst of all your looking ahead, there's a whole year at stake. It will either be golden, aka. one of the best years of your life, or it will be tarnished. I'll admit, my senior year was packed full of some pretty horrible choices which, in all fairness, led me in the direction of some pretty incredible life lessons. But there's a lot of things I would have done differently. A lot. 

So I'm writing this letter to you to pass on some practical advice - not advice from your mom or your teacher or your counselor or your pastor -- just advice from someone who's been there and wants to see you thrive

10 Practical Tips for an Awesome Senior Year

1. Find your joy and dance in it 

When you first start high school, maybe you take the sports marketing class because all the cute guys are in it or you try as many community service clubs as possible because you've heard they look great on college applications. Except you'd really rather be taking the computer technology elective or using your after school time to write music and practice you guitar. Yes, you should consider your goals when it comes to choices about classes and clubs, but you should also consider your interests. The best jobs evolve from your passions, so don't let yours die off -- find ways to take them to the next level. 

2. Thank your parents

They loved you from your stinky diapers to your sweaty gym clothes, and did all the laundry for both. Next year, you won't have that luxury. They carted your butt around for 16+ years everywhere you needed or wanted to go,  listened and coached you through the nasty drama, cheered for you through the amateur plays and sat on freezing bleachers for your losing team. They made sure you had food to eat every day and clothes to wear. You will miss them next year when you leave home. Make sure you give them lots of hugs while you can. 

3. Weed out the bad, invest in the good. 

People change. If you've found yourself wondering why you're even friends with that jerk of a guy or you only really hang out with her because you've known each other since fourth grade but have nothing in common anymore... cut your losses. Your time is better spent invested in people whom you might actually want to keep in touch with when you move away. Think of the people whose advice you value most, people who make you better and make you smile -- those are the keepers. Everyone else, well... don't be mean about it, just stop trying to make something work that's not worth your time or effort.

4. Stop worrying what others think.

You're about to be thrust into a new environment where no matter what happened in the past 12 years of school, you get to be you. So you might as well start practicing now. And honestly, WHO CARES what McStuffsHerBra from your Health class thinks about your haircut. Do you like it? Awesome. Rock it. McHandsome says you're not his type? GOOD. Cause that means he's not yours either and you'd be wasting your time anyways. Just learn to love your crazy quirks and hobbies and style (or lack thereof) because you were made to be someone's first choice, somebody's inspiration, and somebody's best friend. It doesn't have to be everyone and if fact, you really don't want it to be. So stop worrying and this year, let loose and BE YOU. 

5. Don't check out 

You are extraordinary. That means it doesn't matter if you can check out on your classes, the fact is you shouldn't. It's true that it looks bad on college applications, but beyond that, it looks bad on you. The best preparation for life beyond high school is simply learning to put your best foot forward in any circumstance, even when you don't feel like it or it "doesn't really matter" for your grade. Thomas Edison once said: 

The successful person makes a habit of doing what the failing person doesn't like to do.  

6. Enjoy being a kid

There's a lot of responsibility ahead in life, but you're in a unique position this year. Take every crazy weird opportunity to spend being silly with your friends. Have water balloon fights in your back yard, go shopping and try on ball gowns you can't afford, take a road trip to the closest amusement park. There will be plenty of time to deal with parties and serious relationships and planning for the future. But for now, just enjoy being young and wild. 

7. Get used to being an adult. 

I realize this seems counter-intuitive compared to #6, but there's a balance that needs to exist. You're in a season of life where you can be both, but you should learn now that fun is not synonymous with illegal or irresponsible. You can very easily turn your life upside down when you take "wild" to the extreme. Learn how to balance work and play. Success may have come easily in the past, but in the future, you should expect to pay your dues to earn grades, friends, and your reputation.

8. Relax

Remember that part about balance? I didn't say it was easy. But as much as there is to do and decide this year, don't forget to relax a little bit too. Deciding the destiny of your future as an 18 year old is an understandably intimidating undertaking. The truth is though, you don't have to have it all figured out. Some people (cough, me) think they finally do, go through college, and then still change their minds. It's only a crisis if you let it escalate into one. Learn about your options, do your best along the way, make friends, and practice what you love. You'll never have all the answers and the answers you think you do have will probably change so just relax. 

9. Make your own decisions for your own future

Not for your boyfriend. Not for your bestie. Not even for your parents or your uncle's step niece's great aunt. Give yourself the chance to start fresh and be your own person without the ties of preconceived expectations. And for the love of God, TAKE RISKS. Now is the best time to broaden your horizons with no strings attached. Take it from these people who seem to sum it up pretty perfectly: 

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. --Steve Jobs
A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. --John A. Shedd
It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default. --J.K. Rowling

10. Leave a Positive Legacy

The bottom line is that you will be remembered for something. Years from now, your name will come up in a conversation or someone will point to your picture in the yearbook and say,

"He/She really was _______"

What do you want to fill in the the blank? It doesn't even have to be accomplishment-driven, which is what most people believe. Sure there's the superlatives,

best eyes, most talented, most athletic, valedictorian, most athletic, best dressed...

But your reputation goes beyond your hobbies and looks. That blank will be filled with, "... the nicest girl in our grade" or "willing to try anything" or "always sticking up for someone or something." It could also easily be "...the laziest person I've ever met" or "the biggest jerk in our class." Your legacy can be seen through the things you do, but only by the person you are from the inside out. And while you should ultimately refer to #4, when you're being yourself and acting with intention and respect for yourself and others, you'll end up leaving that positive legacy without even knowing it. 


As you walk through the halls this year, remember all the notes passed, stolen kisses, and tears shed and look ahead to all the excitement and change to come. Before you know it, you'll be walking them in your cap and gown and saying goodbye to this chapter of your life.

You have the power to choose what happens in between and to make the best of every situation that unfolds.

Wishing you a year of unforgettable memories and the guts to take life by the horns, 



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Leah O'ConnellComment