Senior trip marks a welcome return of a Keystone tradition

Oct 01 2021

Senior trip marks a welcome return of a Keystone tradition

“I hid in the clouded warmth of the crowd
But when they said, “Sit down,” I stood up
Ooh, ooh, growin’ up
–Bruce Springsteen

Watching Keystone seniors frolic in the Gulf of Mexico brought joy to the hearts of us chaperones. After a 7.5-mile hike, the students were ready to leap into warm Gulf water, play football in the surf, and jump off one another’s shoulders. They laughed, squealed with delight, and acted like the fun-loving adolescents they are.

Teens in front of camp cabin

Seniors in Florida in Sept. 2021

Perhaps this is what made the moment so magical. As the students played, one of the group leaders and I floated in the water, watched to make sure they were safe, and shared how happy we were for them.. For more than a year and a half now, the lives of children all over the world, including Keystone Cobras, have been altered by COVID. They slogged through distance learning and hybrid schedules, and missed many of the typical adolescent rites of passage: games were canceled and dances were scrapped. At a time of life when there’s so much to enjoy, many teens experienced disappointment and sadness instead. Even last week’s Outdoor Education trip could occur only after everyone provided proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test.

But here were these students who were in the midst of challenging senior-year coursework and the anxiety of applying to college, splashing in the Gulf, living in the moment, and reveling in the sun and surf.

All too often we can forget that our oldest Cobras are still kids. They act in a very sophisticated fashion, and they appear weighed down by adult stress and anxiety. Their deep voices and grown-up manners can mask nervousness and worry as they travel through an adolescence that is much more complicated than when we were children, thanks in part to the ubiquity of social media. Their triumphs and failures show up immediately on Facebook and Instagram for all to see; they appear to have everything figured out, but all too often this hides their all-too-real fears.

In less than a year, these students may be living in another part of the country and away from home for the first time. They will spend their days and nights with people they have never met while taking a full load of college courses and trying to figure out who they wish to be and what they want to study. Some of these students will have roommates for the first time and will have to learn how to navigate shared living spaces.

For their parents, this can be a vexing time. One minute these children wish nothing to do with us; the next moment, they are crying on our shoulders or laying their souls bare. Just when we think they’ve become predictable, they do something so unexpected that we’re left speechless. One conversation with a high school student can feel like talking with an adult peer; the next time, this child who looks like our 16-year-old acts like a hellion. This is the roller-coaster of parenting an adolescent.

To be candid, our Keystone Cobras are impressive, and it’s not just their head of school saying that. The day the students swam with manatees in Florida’s Crystal River, a guide pulled me aside and said, “your students are amazing.” I thanked her and agreed. The guide apparently thought that I was not understanding her fully, so she pulled me even closer and said, “Believe me, I don’t tell everybody this. Your kids are REALLY amazing!” I relayed this to the students that evening and told them how proud we were of them.

So, with all their maturity and their wishing to be treated like adults, we need to remember that they are in a liminal state of transition. They knock on the door of adulthood, but sometimes they rap like a youngster. They may drive us crazy with what feels like childish antics only to then express an insight that would shame a pundit. We just need to take a deep breath, enjoy both the moments of incipient adulthood and the final days of their childhood. All too soon they will be gone, and we will miss them more than we ever imagined.

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