Headmaster’s Thoughts – October 2013

I started writing these monthly “Thoughts” nearly nine years ago. The original purpose was to offer students (in this case, my senior Ethics class) some power and perspective: just as teachers generally require students to write essays that are corrected and graded, these students might be encouraged if their ethics teacher and headmaster wrote a monthly essay which they could similarly correct. Good ideas rarely achieve intended results. Nine years later, I suspect few of my seniors read these pieces, but still in hope I write them, and this piece is for them.

Since school started again last week, I have watched the new senior class obsess (as previous senior classes have) about being seniors. The fact is that this year is one long goodbye to 12 years of elementary, middle, and high school. It already has become a focus of conversations: “Can you believe we are seniors?” Which can also mean: “Can you believe that next year we will be on our own without all of the family and school support we are used to?”

There is not only a fear of the unknown next year at college and in the future thereafter, but also, perhaps implicitly, a genuine nostalgia for the place where they have felt comfortable for so long. School is where you become an adolescent, overcome puberty, create a persona, and make close friends among your classmates. Right about now, every senior is beginning to realize that those times, those challenges, and even those friendships are nearing an end. Particularly in this age of cellphones, Skype, and text messages, friendships don’t disappear entirely, but it is one thing to have a best friend live nearby and attend the same class every day, and quite another to have him or her 500 or more miles away. In their hearts, they know that this is the last year of the class of 2014 (and they are a cohesive class) being together.

Being a senior is a protracted farewell. It starts on the first day of the year with a talk by administrators about senior responsibilities, and it ends, of course, with graduation. All the while, the clock of youth almost perceptibly ticks away. Seniors know that something is about to change, which they both want and do not want to occur, whether it is the secure place in their parents’ home, their sense of place in their own neighborhood, their ease with teachers they know, or—above all—the unified nature of their class. Tick, tock, tick, tock!

So, to any seniors who actually are reading this, I want to tell you that it is absolutely okay to feel nostalgic about a place and time you have not yet left, that it is scary to be on the brink of one of the major transitions you will face in life so far (and it may even be the largest you will face), and that you have every right to feel vulnerable. Growing up generally also means growing independent, and it is not painless.

My hope is that you will find a partner or friends to share the loneliness of leaving your classmates with whom you have been for so many years, that you will successfully handle the new experience of having to make decisions with less assistance or pressure from your parents, and that you will always remember that you must be your own best friend—ethical, responsible, a decent community member who is kind to others, but one who is also good to yourself and able to protect your own future.

It is a bittersweet year. There is nothing that can prevent that clock from ticking. But try to make it a great year so that you can leave your school years with pride and remember them as years of friendship and joy. Nostalgia and happiness are not incompatible.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org 

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.