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What I Would Tell My High School Senior Self: Coronavirus Edition

I don’t know how many times I’ve said how much I feel like a completely different person than I was in high school. But I know I’m a completely different person than I was in high school.

To anyone who’s also had some experience in the “real world,” I’m sure you also feel as though you are changed too. No one can avoid the passage of time and with that, the inevitable shift in circumstances that make you learn as you experience new things. And they warned us before we left how big of a deal it was going to be, right? The getting-your-dream-degree-at-your-dream-four-year-university life?

Yeah… except not everyone’s post-high school life fits into this pretty category. Not even close. And what then? Are you not going places, not experiencing the right kind of change if you don’t have an impressive college’s sweatshirt to show off? Well, whether you are comparing your current college experience to others, are unsure whether you’ll go to college at all, have any doubts about what you chose to do post-high school, or even are still in high school, let me tell you, NO. Coming from an extremely nontraditional college student that never planned (or wanted) to be untraditional, I can confidently say my differences are really the only things I have to thank for taking me outside my comfort zone, for giving me more opportunities to grow than I could have imagined had I stayed on my “proper” route. The only unfortunate thing about it was that that took me almost two years to realize. So listen up!

Four years ago as a timid high school senior, I was living in a world where there was nothing to be proud of in someone who: didn’t know precisely where they were going and for what, and wasn’t exploding with excitement about it. In my honors English class, an entire chalkboard was dedicated to showing off what students had been accepted to what four-year universities. Nothing was more stressful to me than watching it fill up with circles around the colleges that were officially chosen by each of my peers, starting as soon as November, when I didn’t have to decide until May. You better believe no one was boasting about taking a gap year because they weren’t sure what they wanted to do or if they were ready to go to college. There was no reminder that some of the most impactful people in the world didn’t get more than a high school education.

Anna Schultz-Girl On Computer Stress
Anna Schultz / Her Campus

Similarly, there’s a little something going around called Coronavirus (maybe you’ve heard of it?) that’s put a bit of a damper on traditional end-of-year plans. Especially if you’re a senior in either high school or college (my heart goes out to you), I bet you’re not boasting about this. Understandably. But hear me out: everyone’s in the same boat as you. Nothing can be traditional right now because the thing about pandemics is they don’t tend to pop up more than once in a lifetime, if that. And that means there are not normal expectations that can be embarrassing to not fulfill. I mean, is anyone right now really going to belittle the high school senior that decides to take a gap semester because they’re relieved to have more time to search for a college that actually suits them well? That has always feared investing too much money into an education at the institution known for X when they aren’t even sure about committing to learning more than a semester’s worth of X? No. Society will praise this person for being brave, doing the hard thing because it’s in their best interest at a time when their options are limited. Anyway— 

I wish I had been that high schooler. Maybe not pandemic-provoked, but I often try to imagine what it would’ve been like had I done the thing that was right for me, no matter how challenging, from the start. Instead, I tried my hardest to squeeze myself into the “best option” college box, to suppress all of my thoughts about not feeling right or happy for three whole semesters. Not stopping until it felt like I was putting myself into danger for being so miserable…But I did it because I was smart! And I knew it! So I absolutely could not risk embarrassing myself by not proving I could be accepted into XY and Z and continuing to be smart there. Truly, it never as much as crossed my mind not to take that path, or in the case of being three semesters deep, not to continue along that path. That was probably worse— added to the picture were new college friends to feel judgement from, who were all busy loving the life I secretly resented.

Very simply put, I would tell my high school senior self this: Don’t go to that college. It’s okay to take more time to look for a place you feel you belong in. Don’t be so friggin’ fearful of other people’s opinions because you have zero control over them anyway and they don’t matter. But I want to emphasize that without making that mistake, I wouldn’t have learned the beauty of embracing being different— taking a gap semester to work full time as a nursing assistant at a hospital which motivated me to want to go back to school more than ever with a clear goal, knowing exactly what I wanted in my next school and not settling this time, learning to be the new kid multiple times, advocating for myself to make sure my new school accepted all of my credits, etc.

blue notebook saying my secret plan to rule the world on cover with pink background
Pexels / Ann H

Just like I can’t go back in time to tell myself not to go to college right away, just like you can’t redo anything either, we can’t go back and tell the Coronavirus not to happen. So maybe— this is the way I like to look at all my detours from planned paths (including my own gripes with the virus)— it’s actually better this way. One of the ways I’m embracing it as part of my story is actually focusing on how it feels cool to be sharing this experience with everyone else. It feels cool to be experiencing a period of time that has made everyone so hypersensitive to the individual needs of others. Because we should always be accepting of everyone’s individual needs. We should always keep in mind that “best interest” looks different for everyone and be respectful of it. It gives me hope that more people will see the beauty in individuality and that less people will find themselves in the situation I did as a high school senior. Anyway—

It ain’t all about college, either. My rationale absolutely includes respecting those who choose to forego it altogether! After all, who would I be to say I’m better than anyone on their best path? So please, in general, don’t let anyone else define what your best interest looks like. Own your obstacles, including your personal Coronavirus struggles. You never know how lucky you could find yourself feeling later.

Jordan Monette

U Mass Amherst '21

Jordan is a first semester senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying biology. Her passions include healthcare, drawing and painting, reading/writing about positivity and self growth, and spreading optimism to all that she crosses paths with— her main goal with writing for Her Campus! She aspires to be a physician assistant and currently works at her local hospital as a nursing assistant.
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