What We’ve Learned Senior Year: Advice to Juniors

Senior year has been a wild ride so far. It’s difficult to attribute this to college applications, pandemic restrictions beyond school, or virtual and hybrid classes themselves, since each of these things has defined our unique senior year experience. The vast majority of RHS seniors would probably agree that this year brings unique challenges and has been a total “grind.” However, amid all of the chaos, new opportunities have arisen for reflection, for growth, and for an evolving understanding of what it means to be “successful.”

College applications are one of the most hyped up things in all of high school. Underclassmen see the posts of senior acceptances pop up on their Instagrams, wondering what the future will bring, and in some cases being jealous of the soon-to-be graduates. 

However, as seniors, we have realized that not only is the process more hectic than underclassmen may think, the process is also much less all-important and all-consuming. Throughout the process of working hard and spending hours and hours putting together the “best” representation of yourself to send to colleges, you realize much more about your own values and beliefs while learning the virtues of resilience and patience. Most importantly, you learn how irrelevant college acceptances are to your self-worth and future aspirations when compared to an actual passion for learning and ability to communicate effectively with others.

Take for example the College Interview. This can be super intimidating to some and the highlight of an application for others. In reality, speaking to these interviewers is an eye-opening experience and a grounding force in many cases. Many interviewers speak about the importance of college in terms of opening your mind and enjoying new opportunities. When asked how their undergraduate experience has helped them with their current careers, they have a difficult time pointing to one specific discipline or experience. They say college is meant to teach you critical thinking and to encourage you to approach problems from disparate points of view. 

Depending on where you apply, these interviewers have graduated from “top schools” and have “great jobs.” But the most important takeaway from their experiences is that college “success” is not measured by the degree itself but instead by the approach to learning and connection with professors and classmates. 

Of course, this is not a reason to argue that students should not strive to gain acceptance to “top schools.” Instead, it is a reason to seek greater clarity about your priorities in high school, in and outside of the classroom. This year has brought this clarity to many seniors. If social isolation and college applications are the problem, a greater appreciation and connection with teachers (in clubs, period 9, and in classes) is the remedy. 

This approach will yield much more success in college applications and within the actual halls of college. Hiding in the background and stressing is not going to improve anything. Instead, preparing for college by exploring your interests and cultivating relationships with high school teachers is the ultimate way to find meaning and purpose in the school building. Are you going to RHS to check things off a box or are you going to engage in classes and to learn from peers and teachers? It is tempting to become obsessed with Skyward, and grades are certainly important. Arguing that they aren’t would be disingenuous. However, enjoying school and finding balance between your academic goals, mental health, and desire to spend time with your family and friends will lead to better grades. Hating school will not “improve” your academic performance. 

Let’s talk about teachers. Many people think that teachers are the difference between enjoying high school and hating it. But the truth is that the vast majority of RHS teachers are pretty flexible and are nice people. 

Just follow a few simple rules and you’ll find a ton of fulfillment from most (if not all) of your classes. Don’t disrespect teachers by never handing in work, looking at your phone during the entire class, and visibly showing signs of boredom. Instead, actively show them that you are interested in their insights (not because we’re writing this but because you genuinely ARE interested). If you aren’t interested in what they have to say, you should probably change your schedule or find something that interests you. Never take a class you despise just because someone told you to. 

When you’re actually interested in the classes and teachers you’re with, period 9 is absolutely critical. Not in a gratuitous sense by any means, but in the sense that if you have a question about work, or simply want to chat, or if your teacher ran out of time to call on you in your heated history discussion and you want to share your point with them, they will be happy to see you. In this case, what you give is essentially what your teachers give you in return. The second you feel incredibly hyped up about something interesting in any of your classes, go talk to your teacher more about it! By showing your continued interest and dedication in taking the time to go to their room, in-person or virtually, you have the invaluable opportunity to forge personal relationships with your teachers that extend beyond the classroom–and those close relationships are something uniquely afforded to all RHS students. Use period 9.

Don’t fake anything. If you’re genuinely interested in something, you should talk to your teachers about it. Most of them will be interested to delve deeper into some of these topics. If you’re not curious like that then don’t feel compelled to do it. If you do get to know your teachers a bit more personally, it can be very special.

If you respect your teachers and show them you are putting in real effort, they are much more likely to respect you, allowing you to take an extension or some time to cool off once in a while. Of course, it’s up to you to know the boundaries of teachers and when they expect to actually check and grade your assignments. If your teacher expects to grade your paper five minutes after you hand in a hard copy, you probably shouldn’t test their patience. And don’t write bad emails that piss people off or force them to explain an entire unit to you or to do a simple Google search for you. 

But if you hand in a well-written and coherent paper three hours after its 3:30 PM deadline, that shows a genuine interest in the material and not a blatant disregard for the rules of the assignment, it would be difficult to find a teacher that will drop your average by a letter grade. To sum it up, (most) teachers will be flexible if you are genuine and aren’t abusing their goodwill by handing them a blank piece of paper, utter garbage, or something that is just so inadequate and out of the bounds of the assignment. 

But being a senior is not all about academics. There are going to be times when you need to blow off steam. This year is also about realizing that you can be a high school student without making everything beholden to drama. Do whatever you like to do after school and enjoy it. No one cares whether your ideal Friday night is in Hoboken, a basement, a backyard with a few people, or a few towns over with your cousins. Most people come to understand that the “Ideal Suburban Experience” is a myth, and the goal is to have fun, not to impress others. Yet, if you HAVE actually found the “Ideal Suburban Fantasy,” be our guest in preaching your discovery to the masses. We don’t really care.

To any juniors out there, the first semester of senior year is not going to be easy. Participating a lot in class, writing college essays, thinking about college, participating in clubs, and finding time to relax is not going to be easy. However, once you realize that you can take matters into your own hands and find fulfillment in your learning and life without judging or being judged by others, you can find what success means to you and how you can best achieve that. That is one of the most pivotal changes every student goes through during their high school experience. We still have a lot to learn, but learning that we live in the world, not trapped in a bubble, is the best part of high school. Hopefully, you get what you want in terms of grades and college acceptances. But if not, you have, at the very least, maximized your high school passions and opportunities and forged relationships that are much deeper than superficial pieces of paper.

Aaron Friedman and Logan Richman
Staff Editor and Editor-in-Chief

Graphic: Laura Gessmann

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