Seniors’ departures inspires a range of emotions
“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable rites of spring at Keystone is driving up Craig to the main entrance and seeing the photographs of the graduating seniors in their caps and gowns. We started this tradition in 2020 when we couldn’t be on campus; we have continued it to recognize the twelfth graders in this way as they begin their transition from high school to college. Parents of students in all grades and even people in the neighborhood out for their morning walks have commented on how much they enjoy seeing the seniors’ smiling faces.
Posting these pictures is one of the many traditions around our students coming to the end of their time at Keystone and heading off to college. We hold a parade on college announcement day so everyone can cheer for the seniors before they announce to their parents and faculty/staff members where the next step in their educational journey will be. Students also share a fun fact about their new school whether it’s that there is a glacier named for Johns Hopkins University or that the grunge band Nirvana was banned from the University of Washington.
We also usually hold a dinner where the graduating seniors offer words of advice and counsel to the rising 9th graders. At this event, we also watch a video created by the seniors to reminisce on their years together, and we hear an address from a faculty member selected by the students.
During the evening following the seniors’ final day of classes, we hold our closing Stone Soul, which is dedicated to them. Students perform songs or spoken word pieces and engage in silly games.
After the ninth, tenth, and eleventh-grade students leave campus at the end of Stone Soul, the seniors and a few chaperones remain for the annual Senior Prank festivities. Under the supervision of adults, students decorate the campus as a way to play jokes on the entire school and certain teachers and staff members. Rather than engage in the kind of destructive vandalism that can happen during senior pranks, Keystone seniors find witty ways to leave one final reminder of their time at the school. This year’s class even created a carnival for the upper school yesterday.
These rituals serve a variety of purposes. For example, they symbolically represent the seniors closing out one phase of their lives. In a few weeks, they will no longer be Keystone students; they will now join Cobra alumni from other classes. They will always be welcome to return to campus, but it’s different as alumni. I have heard them say when they step on campus in their new status, “This feels weird. I don’t go here anymore.”
This year’s ceremonies bring a juxtaposition of emotions, as we celebrate our graduating seniors while mourning the loss of a student. We feel joyful for the seniors at the same time we feel sadness for the passing of an 11th grader.
Students enter their last year of high school knowing that they are moving on to somewhere else, but they don’t know where so it can feel a little surreal. Once they commit to a university or college, the understanding that their time at Keystone is coming to an end becomes real. Consequently, the spring of their senior year can provide a maelstrom of emotions. They can’t wait to go, but they don’t want to leave. They’re sick of high school, but they’re apprehensive of college. They know what they’re leaving behind, but they’re not 100% sure of what’s ahead. There’s excitement combined with trepidation. This is all very normal.
The spring events also acknowledge this is a transitional phase for parents. Like the students, we experience a mixture of emotions. We are happy for our children and we are proud of them; we will also miss them, and they’re headed to college marks a new phase in our lives. For this reason, Counselor Dr. Erica Shapiro and College Counselor Sara Christiansen hold a coffee for parents to discuss the upcoming changes. We also provide parents with a copy of the excellent book, “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide To Understanding the College Years” by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawerence Treeger.
Over the next few months, the students will engage in the developmentally appropriate practice of pushing parents away and pulling them closer. They will assert themselves by saying things like “In a few months, you will have no idea where I am and who I’m hanging out with so why do I have to inform you of what I am doing now?” They will come into their parents’ room late at night just as we’re nodding off and want to chat.
The summer can be particularly challenging for the student-parent relationship as they test their incipient independence. There’s a tongue-in-cheek saying that by the time our children are ready to go, we’re ready for them to leave. All of this is a typical element of the separation process.
So, let’s congratulate our seniors, and wish them well, while knowing that we will miss them greatly. Let’s also keep all of our upper schoolers in our thoughts as they mourn their schoolmate and sit with this swirl of emotions.