Dear Cassidy: A Case for Senior Year

Dear Cassidy*

I must admit, when you told me a few weeks back that you want to graduate a year early to get a jump start on college, an immediate and somewhat surprising sadness washed over me. I tried not to show it, but I think you may have noticed.

I’m also pretty sure that when you asked me for a letter of recommendation this isn’t what you had in mind. Fear not, I wrote two letters: one to the Office of Admissions and another (this one) to you.

In the official letter, I praised your academic achievements, your talents as a thespian, musician and athlete. I also recommended your admission into college, since that was your wish.

And while I stand by every laudatory word I wrote in that letter, it was not my complete recommendation. An unadulterated version would include my recommendation that you stay in high school next year, that you don’t live your life in fast forward, that you experience (dare I suggest treasure) your senior year.

Why? Because the thing about senior year is that there’s only one of them.

My fear is that if you don’t experience senior year, you’ll miss out on one of life’s great experiences, like someone who’s never slurped a shave ice at the beach, never made a snow angel, never read a Harry Potter book, and has to go through life wondering what all the nostalgia is about.  

There’s so much in senior year that’s celebratory, cumulative, and icing-on-the-cake-ish. It’s a chance to celebrate you and the culmination of 13 years from the moment you walked into kindergarten with your velcro shoes and Little Mermaid backpack when telling time and writing your name were your biggest challenges to the moment you walk out of high school in yoga pants and leg warmers (yes, they’re back) able to quote Shakespeare, explain the double helix, and play Take Five on the saxophone. A journey worth completing, a rite of passage worth celebrating.  

Pondering this, I recently reruited the wisdom of Facebook friends, asking their thoughts on senior year and early graduation. Here’s a sampling of their responses:

from recent HS grads:

  • I feel like if I had needed to go to college after junior year I probably could have done it but senior year gave me time to really be ready to move on. I think it would have been a shock to move to a huge campus setting a year earlier than I did.
  • Senior year was my favorite year of high school! I got to take classes that I really enjoyed and these classes gave me skills that I’m currently using in college. Besides academics, I felt that my extra curriculars, like theatre and choir, were the most rewarding during my senior year. I’m incredibly thankful I had all of that time to spend with my favorite people.
  • Being able to graduate and experience those “lasts” of senior year with the people and friends I grew up with from grade school is important, I think. I’ve always believed that with anything in life the journey is just as important as the destination (as cliche as that might sound), especially when you’re young.

from Adults (friends and colleagues):

  • I think it’s indicative of a problem in our culture, no one lives in the moment, they are constantly looking forward to the next thing. No one enjoys the here and now.
  • I really became comfortable in my own skin during my senior year. I stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me. I grew out of that teenage funk and sprouted grownup wings.
  • Senior year is when it all somehow came together for me. Without realizing it, I become a leader and became responsible for myself. And by the end of senior year, I was finally ready to leave it, the perfect confluence of events.
  • Frontal brain development! No matter how mature or intelligent someone seems, that frontal lobe is just not developed. Only time can do that.
  • Hurry up and finish high school so you can hurry up and get through college so you can hurry up and work for the rest of your life?! It’s about the journey–not about racing to the finish line. And college is a whole lot more expensive – financial aid and scholarships just aren’t there for early grads.
  • One year at that time in your life is HUGE. I wasn’t ready for the freedom and risks and temptations at college. I probably thought I was, but I wasn’t.

I must also note one of my FB friends who veered from the “pro senior year” camp, wisely pointing out that “not every student has a perfect home life…and moving on is in their best interest.” She also pointed out my central contradiction: that if I didn’t think early graduation was a good idea, perhaps I should consider not writing you a letter of recommendation.  

As your teacher, though, I believe it’s my job to teach you, support you, and prepare you for your next step, whatever that may be. It’s my job to write a letter of recommendation that honestly represents you and conveys your abilities. It’s your job to decide what those next steps are.

So now, two letters are complete: one about you as a student, someone who can, if she chooses, face the rigors of college one year early; and one to you as a person, someone I care about, someone whose ultimate decision I will wholly respect.

Best of luck to you, Cassidy.*

With Fondness, 
Mrs. Felske


*Name has been changed to protect the scholarly.

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