Dear Rising Freshmen: A Slam Poem from a Graduating Senior

By: Sophie Johnson

Dear Freshmen,
Look up for a second.
Stop, pause, put everything down. 
Sit up, lean back, agree to take five minutes
Five minutes to listen
Five minutes to reflect
Five minutes now
Can change so much later.

So you’re here. 
High school.
Infamous, complicated.
The best of the best, the worst of the worst.
There’s not a way to get you fully ready.

The next four years. 
Late nights, heartbreak, grit, frustration.
These years will confuse you.
You will cry and scream and shout and swear and yell.
Yet you will laugh
The next four years.
Football games, dances, first loves, peaceful drives.
You’ll laugh so hard you split right down the middle and sew yourself back up with the people around you who you call home. 

My four years were far from perfect. 
Quite far at certain moments. 
But I do have a sense of what I wish I’d heard
Before diving into it all.

Middle school was middle school and I suggest you leave it there. 
Testosterone, mascara, and sweat cloaked each classroom. 
Group chats and lunch tables
An environment of fear,
Social status reigned with high importance.

And now, you need to ignore it.
Take that mentality of comparison and rank and throw it high into the air
Watch it as it falls, and notice its failure to capture the nuances of the people around you
Let it hit the ground, hard and loud, up and down. 
Step on it.

Just be kind.
You don’t know what she’s leaving behind her when she walks out of the door in the morning. 
You don’t know what his dad said to him last night that made his skin crawl. 
You don’t know what the voice inside her head is yelling at her when all she wants to do is sleep. 
You don’t know, and you can’t know.
So base your actions off of that. 
The people you start high school with are not the people you’ll finish with. 
This is healthy and necessary and valuable and right.
A few will stay the same, but most will change. 
Let them. 

Keep noticing how your laugh sounds around certain people. 
Are you holding it back with the group of girls at lunch?
Eyes down, hair straightened, fork clutched awkwardly in hand. 
Or maybe your laugh’s unstifled with your table in art class
Notice the sound, the rhythm
Of the joy that seeps out of you when you’re around the right people.
Stick by those people. 

The “school” in high school.
Heavy for some, weightless for others. 
Looking back, I tend to wish I put less emphasis on it. 
Academics have become an epidemic
Stress, sleeplessness, pressure, expectations.
This is a competitive town, a competitive school district
But understand one thing. 
There are more important things than your biology test and your physics lab. 
Show up, put effort in, study, work. 
And then put it down, and spend some time investigating who you are as a person, not just a student.

Understand something.
Logic would suggest that if good things go in, good things come out. 
If effort goes in, success comes out. 
If hard work goes in, achievement comes out. 
And yet, if you define success and achievement as high grades, this logic machine does not work. 
High school.
Staying up until 2am studying, and getting a 50% on the quiz. 
High school. 
Pouring your heart out on paper, and it’s a C. 
High school.
Forgetting about an afternoon test, and getting a 100%.
There is not a simple, direct correlation between the amount of effort you put in and the letter grade you get. 
I wish there was. 

The logic machine only works if your definition of success and achievement don’t involve a letter grade.
It can overlap,
But don’t revolve your pride around an alphabet of five.   
Comprehension of a concept. 
Life application.
There’s your A.
And it’s worth more too.

High school runs on a new type of clock, one different than you’re used to. 
The hard moments last days.
The good moments last seconds.
The weeks are long as could be,
But the months get shorter and shorter.
What matters is not the frequency or severity of the good and bad moments. 
What matters is how you choose to spend them. 
Do not try to flee discomfort too quickly, 
And do not cling to serenity. 
But notice the ebb and flow of high school moments. 
Know that if a wave crashes, there is a taller one right behind it.

What I’m acknowledging is your lack of control in the weird clock of high school.
Know that what feels big will soon turn small,
“What is” will quickly become “what was.”

So how are you going to find happiness?
Right now, 
Right here. 
Some of you will find it easily, 
Some of you will have to search desperately.
My one point is this:
You cannot wait until the work is done to learn how to relax. 
You cannot say “Well, once I finish this, I’ll be happy. Life will be good.”
That is pushing happiness over your cognitive horizon, a concept beautifully digested in Shawn Achor’s TED Talk. 
(Watch it.) 
If you keep waiting to finish one thing before prioritizing your mental health, you will never reach that happiness.
It will keep moving away from you, for as long as time. 

There will always be more work to do in high school. 
You will never reach the point of  
“Okay, now I finally have nothing to do so I’m going to work on my happiness.”
You need to purposefully carve out time to insert it. 
You must do this, or you’ll go crazy. 
I promise. 
I’ve been there and I’ve tried it. 
Priorities are a dangerous thing if you do not include mental health on your “important” list. 
Now I’ve said what I needed to say. 
And you’ve heard what you need to hear. 
I cannot make you follow my advice.
If you would rather focus on popularity and feel hollow each morning, be my guest. 
If you would rather place all of your worth in letter grades, be my guest. 
But four years from now, when you throw your high school graduation cap into the air surrounded by your friends, 
(Something I will never get to do)
See if you find yourself agreeing with my reflections. 
High school is hard and scary, but it’s going to be the best four years of your life so far. 
So good luck.

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