The end of high school means a new college beginning

It's that time of year: High school graduation means one last summer before college and the real world kicks in.
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The past four years have been a whirlwind, and I understand them little more than I understand what lies ahead in the next four. But I’m ready for it. I’ve applied. I’ve been accepted. I’m armed with not only knowledge, but experience.

I didn’t want to begin this piece by mentioning the college process. However, a few minutes of aimlessly staring at a computer screen proved that I had no better options.

At this point in my high school career – I never liked the term “career” in this context, it feels too esteemed – the college process still conjures the most outstanding quantities of excitement and fear. It is the freshest taste in my mouth. It lingers.

Deciding on a college is not just the climax of high school. In a sense, it is high school. It’s the entire high school journey of pity, triumph, doubt and self-discovery rolled into a few months that look far shorter on a calendar than they feel to those experiencing them.

It starts with a courtship process. Freshman year in high school coddles and brings you along gently. Student groups, athletic teams and school plays hope for wider participation, for tryouts and for auditions. Everyone likes you!

The college process begins in a similar way. It’s innocent enough. You get flooded with well-meaning emails from schools you don’t think you’ll ever attend or scholarships you could never dream of, and they remain in the back of your mind until the next step.

In high school, students experience the inevitable struggle of knowing what to indulge in and what to avoid. Every student stumbles while attempting to find where their priorities ought to lie. I didn’t think I’d be like this. I was certain that I would become renowned for my achievements on the baseball diamond. But we figuratively test-drive different extracurricular activities and groups of friends, often dealing with a fair share of frustration along the way.

Student journalists are bogged down by mundane copy-editing and missed deadlines. Debaters can become frustrated by repeated rushed or slurred words. Thespians often bitterly languish in non-speaking parts for multiple shows. (I spent my time on all three!)

Likewise for prospective college students. The back-and-forth of deciding what schools to apply to (and then actually applying to them) comes off as a fruitless effort when it starts. My path toward the completion of college applications has been paved with sleepless nights and seemingly-endless work.

And then the results flood in, not always satisfactorily. My transcript states that I was once signed up for the girls swimming team. I’m not sure how that happened, but as you can imagine, I was unable to become a standout in this activity.

The result of activities I actually cared about could be even more disheartening. Strong auditions have led to bit parts. Overnight preparation for debate tournaments led to mediocre performances in rounds once deemed winnable. Applications for top spots on the newspaper didn’t always end as planned.

And yet, I have no qualms with my high school experience. If I had to do it all over again (cruel and unusual punishment), I would have applied myself more as a freshman and sophomore. Many of my peers can say the same. But hey, it worked out.

As my senior year comes to a close, I’m the managing editor and online editor-in-chief of a school newspaper that I have grown to love. I am a debate team captain and a stalwart in my school’s theater program. My grades improved, and in the fall I’ll be somewhere I want to be, not somewhere I have to be.

I went from hoping to play baseball in the spring to auditioning for musicals. How did that happen? The past four years have been a whirlwind, and I understand them little more than I understand what lies ahead in the next four. But I’m ready for it. I’ve applied. I’ve been accepted. I’m armed with not only knowledge, but experience.

At my high school, a particularly famous graduation requirement is the “senior speech.” Every senior must write and present a speech to the students and faculty at a weekly assembly.

I started writing mine in my freshman year. That speech was scrapped entirely. My real senior speech was written early in my senior year, as it should have been.

As it should have been. That’s what I’ve learned above all else. It was never possible for me to meticulously plan and execute the ideal, maximum-efficiency high school life. The same applies for the next four years. There will be steps and missteps, times when I flat out fall down a staircase. (It’s happened before.) In the end, they will all be learning experiences.

Now I just have to be a freshman again. Thanks to the last four years, that’s far less intimidating that it sounds.