Dear High School,
Today I wore a mask as I walked alone through your empty halls for the last time as a student. I cautiously wandered into your bare classrooms that still hold so many of my memories, a little afraid of the emotions I’d bring to the surface. As I stepped inside each empty room, I could see the view from my seat, the sound of my teacher’s voice, and what a typical day was like in the many hours I sat in those uncomfortable desks. It felt a little bit like what everyone describes as seeing your “life flash before your eyes.” The voices were so distant and faded but at the same time it was like they were right there.
Not once did the thought cross my mind that we would part like this. I knew it would all come to an end eventually, but we didn’t get a proper goodbye. I didn’t get the closure I needed, the ending that everyone deserves. I felt absolutely nothing when I turned in my last assignment, sitting alone at the desk in my room. I didn’t even know when my “last day” with you was, to be honest. Not that there should be balloons or everyone cheering or anything, but our ending felt anticlimactic, like I was walking up this huge mountain, so close to the peak, and then all the sudden I just fell off – never getting to reach the top.
I know that some people didn’t have a good relationship with you. They aren’t even all that upset that our journey was cut short. I can understand that, but, for me, I cherished my moments with you, the good and the bad, although the bad ones took a little time to appreciate.
There are an infinite number cliches that could be applied to our situation, but the one that keeps running through my mind is that I never really appreciated what we had until it was gone. As cliche as it is, it’s true. I hated getting up and dealing with you on days when I really did not feel like talking to anyone – because I thought there would always be a tomorrow. But as we’ve all learned, there’s not always a tomorrow, there’s not always an “oh, I’ll do that later,” and there’s not always a second chance. Knowing that now makes me appreciate what I once hated about you – the early mornings, the late nights finishing procrastinated projects, gym class, assemblies, watching the clock tick down ever so slowly in my least favorite class… all of those things you gave me that I used to make fun of with my friends, I would do anything to have one last day with.
I’ve learned a lot more from you since our journey was cut short. Even though it’s the last thing I would have wanted, the way my heart hurt when I learned I had unknowingly had my last day with you, it solidified in my mind the way that I’m going to miss you, and what our nontraditional experience has taught me.
It makes sense that we had an unusual ending, because I had a bit of an unusual time with you from the start. I considered myself a student athlete, but not many others did. I rode horses which fell outside of your “normal” sports, and that brought on its own set of challenges. I learned to be okay with people not understanding the work I put into riding, with people not considering it a sport, and to quietly celebrate my own accomplishments. I will admit, though, sometimes I would get carried away, focusing too much on riding. I have you to thank for helping me see the big picture.
Thank you for teaching me that one exam, one competition, or one presentation isn’t the end all be all. I’ve learned, only in the last moments of my journey, that there is so much more to life than that one grade or performance I’m stressing over. There’s so much else going on in the community, the country, and the world. You taught me what that feels like – to be a part of something bigger.
I wish I had learned one of your lessons sooner – that no one cares. No one cares if I wore riding pants to school one day, or if I didn’t know the answer to a question when asked in front of the whole class, or if I said something weird at lunch. Time moves on, and life is too short to leave something left unsaid or to have regrets. You taught me something that I’m already embracing: the mindset that if I even have an inkling gut feeling of wanting to do something, just do it! I’ve never regretted doing something that I thought I might want to do, and it has helped so much with overthinking.
Thank you for giving me insane amounts of work at times, because it forced me to learn how to schedule and find a balance from the very first day of freshman year. With riding being such a time consuming sport and being in honors classes, it was tough to figure out how in the world I was supposed to fit everything you threw at me into one day. I used to say no to hanging out with friends all the time because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle that with riding, school work, and time to myself. I’m incredibly thankful that you gave me the best friend group I could’ve asked for, who I know I’ll stay friends with for life. They encouraged me to come out, and I slowly learned how to do it all. I look back sometimes now that my schedule is light and wonder how, but I did. Now, in my senior year, I regret not getting involved more and branching out sooner, but I’m glad that I did eventually. I became friends with people that I never thought I’d talk to and got involved in sports and clubs that were so out of the box for me. You were the whole reason that I was able to find a balance and figure out the impossible puzzle of doing it all. You made me surprise myself in the best ways by pushing me to my limits, and learning to be comfortable on the edge.
This next thing I learned might be the most important lesson out of all that you’ve taught me. I’m naturally a reserved person. I remember that freshman year, I barely talked in class, didn’t want to participate in anything if I didn’t have to, and stuck to my main group of friends. It took me four years to realize that your whole purpose was not to burden me with calculus and physics that I complained we’re never going to use again in our lives, but instead to help me to come out of my shell, to discover my identity, and to be comfortable sharing who I am inside your brick walls. In my last year with you, I took great steps with all of your lessons, learning not to care so much and how to find a balance, and I had improved enough to say that I was truly able to discover who I am, or at least a piece of the puzzle that I’ll spend my whole life working on.
You taught me that time moves quickly, so we need to enjoy every little bit of it that we get. There is no such thing as wasted time, only lessons learned and experiences had. Thank you for giving me so much in four years of my life in your green-tiled hallways that, I admit, I once hated, but I feel blessed to have in my memories now.