I saw one of my former students last week, and she informed me that she is attempting to finish high school a year early by squeezing in summer classes and avoiding study halls. I couldn’t help but marvel at the dichotomy of our two lives.
When I was in high school, I dreaded the end of my senior year. Despite my excellent grades and pile of extracurricular activities, I had no prospect of college. My parents never uttered the word college to me and I never met with a single guidance counselor who might have helped me find my way to higher education.
Saddled with a bleak future and parents who expected me to move out on my own after graduation (and a desire to move out as well), I never wanted high school to end. My classmates would post a countdown of days remaining in the school year in the corner of every chalkboard throughout the school, relishing the daily ritual of erasing and shrinking number by one.
I couldn’t understand it.
Having grown up in a very small town, I was graduating from high school with the same 100 kids with whom I had attended elementary and middle school, give or take a few. These kids had known me since I was five years old and probably knew me better than my own parents. For better or worse, I thought of this group of people, forced together at an early age into kindergarten classrooms at John F. Kennedy Elementary, as a family. We had been together for thirteen years, and now it was ending.
And everyone seemed so goddamned happy about it.
Worse still, I loved school. Throughout my entire high school career, I avoided study halls, opting instead for classes like Peer Education in order to jam as many credits into my schedule as possible. Like my former student, I also had nearly enough credits for graduation at the end of my junior year, but the thought of taking a couple summer classes and graduating early would have been preposterous.
With about twenty-five days left in my senior year, I made an appointment with the Vice Principal to discuss returning for another year. There were many classes still left for me to take, and I simply could not want to face the prospect that my educational career was coming to a close. I remember sitting across from him and asking if the law required me to graduate, or if I would be allowed to return for another year of learning.
Free college, I thought of it.
I don’t think he ever took me seriously, asking at least twice if this was a joke. Ultimately, he had to do some research in order to determine if a student could return for another year of high school, and after some digging, he found his answer:
So with great sadness, I graduated, and three weeks later was living with friends in Attleboro, Massachusetts.
I was on my own.
Things turned out fine for me, and I’m sure that they will turn out fine for my former student, but part of me wants to urge her to stay in high school for her senior year. Growing up happens so damn fast, and childhood is so fleeting. No matter the allure of college, I want to tell this girl that she has her entire life to hurry up and move along. She has only one chance at a senior year of high school and she should take it.
No need to become an adult before you must.