Senior Reflections on the High School Experience

Ella Best, Staff Writer

Our class began senior English by reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Coming to terms with the end of this era and looking forward to the beginning of the next, I resonated deeply with Coelho’s messages about dreams, truth, and fear. At the beginning of the story, Santiago, the novel’s protagonist, learns the world’s greatest lie, which is that “at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate.” The Alchemist is dominated by Santiago’s fight against this lie, by his search for what he believes is his “personal legend,” or his mission on Earth. 

At 17 and 18, it seems impossible for us to know what our personal legend is. Most of our time is controlled by school, friends, and family. We’re busy with SATs, sports games, and calculus homework. Our deepest aspirations seem to take the backseat, along with our appreciation for the present. Coelho writes that “when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.” I felt a twinge of sadness reading this line, thinking back over my time at Keystone, over the late nights and early mornings, over the weeks in isolation that felt the same. But as I read on, I learned about love and the language of the world, and I thought back to the incredible community that I’ve found here. It might be an unusual way to describe it, but I’ve found love in the comfort of my lower school teachers, in the constant friendship of my peers, in the bond that is shared by Upper School students. And yes, this may all seem dramatic, but I’ve spent twelve years here, and it seems like our time is coming to an end in a messy and unprecedented way. Being separated like this, it can sometimes be hard to feel Santiago’s version of love, and I wanted to write an article to re-establish a sense of community, a sense of the constant give-and-take that I used to see around campus. 

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been gathering responses from the Class of 2021 about their experiences over the past four years. Below you will find genuine advice to underclassmen, commentary about regrets and accomplishments, and recommendations for the administration on how to improve future high schoolers’ experience. The most consistent recurring message in the following answers has been about the importance of appreciating one’s environment. The Class of 2021 wants to encourage all rising highschoolers to value their time with their peers and teachers, to take time for themselves when it is necessary, and most importantly, to know that everything will be okay.

 

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What We Did Right-

 

I think I found the friends that make me the happiest. It may be by chance, but I feel like I made the right decision by surrounding myself with some great people who constantly push me to be a better person.”

 

I made time for my friends. Despite all that was going on, I never neglected to check on friends or have a laugh with people that I care about.”

 

Doing activities that made me extremely uncomfortable. Learn… skills from speaking better, working smarter, and thinking creatively… If you are a history person, do science fair. If you are a science person, [do] Model UN. Don’t be self-righteous about what you think you want.”

 

“I got a chance to get to know [my teachers] on a deep and personal level and realize that they are human beings too.”

 

What We Regret, What we would have done differently-

 

I wish I had interacted with other grades more”

 

“I think that my biggest regret would probably be the fact that I never really did a whole lot outside of Keystone… All I have ever really known is Keystone, and everyone that I am really good friends with is from Keystone. I never really branched out and got involved in things outside of what I was used to.” -Marshall

 

“My biggest regret is not taking advantage of all the amazing resources and teachers at Keystone as much as I should have. “ -Max

 

“I could have been an amazing student if I just worked like I should’ve.” -Dom

 

“My biggest regret would have to be not getting to know my classmates well enough.”

 

Take some time to think about college on your own time. Seriously. Don’t listen to your parents, but to yourself.” -Adam

 

Something that I would have done differently in high school is [to] not worry about what other people thought of me. “ -Siona

 

I would have consulted Keystone’s mental health services sooner… Even if you are having a good day, stop by Dr. Shapiro’s office.”

 

“Valuing myself through grades.” -Adam

 

“My biggest regret is that I didn’t branch and grow close to my entire grade until last year. I wish I had grown close to my entire grade sooner. Every single person in my grade is special, and I would have known their wonderful personalities longer if I had branched out sooner.”  -Siona

 

What We Wish We Knew Earlier-

 

I wish I had known that the time would pass so quickly. I would’ve really made every day count if I knew how fast high school would end.” -Dom 

 

Lots of people are annoying but some are really nice. Stick with those people, don’t get caught up in the drama, and pursue what you’re actually interested in.”

 

Nothing is more important than staying healthy, and I forgot that sometimes as work piled up and time got short.”

 

“It’s incredibly important to know your limits. At Keystone, we live toxic lives. The homework and grades from class feel like they determine our worth. It doesn’t have to be this way. No matter how much homework you have due, know your limits, and let go when feeling overwhelmed. Your teachers will understand.”  -Adam

 

The truth is, almost nobody is in control of the situation at any point. It’s all a crazy chaotic mess that had wrenches thrown into it constantly, and that’s okay.”  -Tim

 

“Reflect about yourself but enough to avoid self-centering. Reflect but don’t close your ears to others. In your world, it’s all about you. But don’t take yourself too seriously.”

 

“Drama is useless.” -Adam

 

“I will be okay no matter what.”

 

“Teachers genuinely care about each and every student. They want to see you succeed more than anyone.”

 

Advice to Underclassmen-

 

Something I suggest to the lowerclassmen is to do your best to make friends outside of your group in your grade. Make an effort to get to know everyone in your grade on some level and then do your best to make friends in other grades.”   -Max

 

“I would say  [to not] do anything stupid just because you think it would be funny because that one thing could ruin your reputation for the rest of high school. Faculty puts a lot of trust into the high school students, but once that trust is broken, it’s hard to earn it back.” -Max

 

“Getting one or a few bad grades isn’t the end of the world.”  -Max

 

It’s okay to not take AP everything. It’s okay to be stressed or feel overwhelmed. It’s ALWAYS okay to ask for help, from students or teachers. Try not to be intimidated. These people want to help you succeed.” -Tim

 

“Prioritize understanding material over memorizing it… Go to school events. It’s pretty fun!”

 

“Don’t stress too much about the SAT or ACT, for it is not that important either.”

 

“Be nice to lowerclassmen when you’re an upperclassman.”

 

Thou must not stress… You should do your best on major assignments,  but this weight should be unique to this category of work. [Minor] assignments should have very little mental weight attached to them.”  -Liam

 

“If you can learn something the first time directly from the teacher, it can save you hours of studying.” -Liam

 

“Don’t seclude yourself to one friend group or social bubble! Don’t label any classmates as “weird” just because they have different interests! Get to know every single person in your grade on a one-to-one basis, even if it doesn’t seem like you have any similarities. The people who challenge your beliefs and interests are the people you learn the most from. I wish I had gotten to know everyone in my grade [earlier] than I did. If I had branched out sooner, I would have met so many wonderful personalities sooner.”  -Siona

 

“Please never forget about the people that you call friends. Additionally, never forget about those that you may not consider friends. You don’t have to like everyone, but at least make an effort to see the good in people.”

 

“I encourage underclassmen to participate in sports. Try to make connections with upperclassmen; these valuable connections will help with your Keystone experience.”

 

Messages to Admin-

 

“Have a quiz cap. The amount of quizzes weekly is insane.”

 

“High school library space!”

 

“I think one thing that I would implement for Seniors especially is lightening the workload in the first quarter/beginning of the second quarter. Juggling quizzes and tests every week is extremely challenging, on top of homework every night and applying for colleges. Perhaps maybe every three weeks for the first/second quarter, we shouldn’t have any homework on Fridays or any major assignment due on Monday so that Seniors can work on only their college applications for that weekend.”

 

“I would try to make athletics more supportive to underclassmen.”

 

“I would try to create consequences for infractions that are actually fair in all situations. See the Keystone Accountability page for examples of instances where this was not the case.”

 

“Having teachers talk/talk more about what they’re assigning their classes so that students don’t get too overloaded with work.”

“I would try to make the campus less politically oriented. Keystone is quite obviously a heavily left-leaning campus, and though it is beyond the scope of the administration’s abilities, I would try to incorporate some more elements from both sides of the political aisle…  I think that debate is becoming less and less inclusive and that these changes are degrading the culture of Keystone.”

Improve diversity in the faculty/staff, expand the arts community as much as possible, and bring back senior lockdown night.”

 

“Better mental health checks.”

 

“I would make sure to be candid about what exactly money is being spent on, specifically with high school students. Current administration is not good about disclosing exactly what that … annual fund from students actually gets put toward, and I feel like many US students would like to know, at least I would.”

 

“More sex ed. Less homework. More autonomy for student-led clubs.”

 

“Increased accessibility of teachers out of school.”

 

“I would try to change how administrators view students. It often feels as though many of the ideas the student body would like to see implemented are ignored, put off/tabled, or shut down before they are given a chance.”

 

What We Will Take Away-

 

I’ll take away the feeling of connection with my classmates  that has formed after years spent together in both stressful and happy times. The memories that we’ve made together on class trips (playing hide and seek in the dark, hiking, being cold together, traversing the spider cave, being assaulted with onions, going to art museums, picnicking, etc) will stay with me forever.”

 

“Something I learned was that there’s nothing wrong with messing up, it happens to the best of us.” – Max

 

“The importance of hard work.”

 

“The importance of people and having people around you.”

 

“Friends will come and go, but your family will always be your family, and that’s what Keystone is to me: a family.” -Max