Grappling with nostalgia: a senior’s ongoing struggle

In the midst of the happiest and most exciting times of my high school years, I am overwhelmed by nostalgia.

It hits me when I least expect it—when I’m surrounded by friends in the parking lot, celebrating a victory with my baseball team or sitting in a classroom filled with lively discussion. In these moments, the moments that typically have made me happiest throughout my four years at Redwood, nostalgia comes up behind me and knocks me over the head. It’s not just a fading emotion in the back of my mind, but a consuming presence. And its existence is making these last few weeks of high school even more bittersweet than I expected. 

I’m a naturally nostalgic person, someone who always experiences a tinge of sadness on birthdays because it means another year has passed. And, for as long as I can remember, I have dreaded the last day of school, unable to deal with the fact that a year’s worth of memories and relationships and moments is coming to an end.

On the night before the last day of eighth grade, I didn’t sleep. Images from my three years of middle school flashed through my head in a montage of memories. I spent the night staring at my ceiling, caught between a terrific excitement for high school and a dreadful longing for the past. 

But that was eighth grade. Even though middle school graduation was a milestone in my life up to that point, it was still only middle school. I knew that I would be attending high school with most of the same middle school classmates.

This upcoming “last day of school” on June 8 is much different. It’s final, concrete and unchanging. This idea is uncomfortable for me. As excited as I am for the future, I can’t help but think back on the moments, people and memories that have shaped me into the Redwood graduate I will soon become.

A little bit of nostalgia and reflection is necessary as a graduation or other type of lifetime milestone nears. Graduations in themselves are ceremonies to honor the culmination of one period and the beginning of the next. To graduate from something without looking back on the years leading up to that point would be a disservice to oneself. Understanding what it took to get to a point is critical to being able to move on from it.

My problem is that reflection has become overwhelming. Everything I do reminds me of a similar moment in the past, or leads me to reflect on my larger high school experience. And so, I’m torn. I want to address the nostalgia and respond to it. But to do so would be an acknowledgment of the fact that high school really is coming to an end.

For the past few months, I have existed in a state of perpetual sentimentality, where memories flood my head and my emotions become an indiscernible mix of happiness and regret and excitement and insecurity.

Did I do enough to leave a legacy? Was that the last conversation I’ll ever have with that person? When I walk across the amphitheater stage, will I be content with what I have accomplished?

These are the questions I subconsciously ask myself, questions which I am unable to answer. I might never truly be able to answer them, but the mere fact that they exist in my head is enough to put a damper on my remaining weeks of high school.

A few weeks ago, as a particularly troubling bout of nostalgia attacked me as I lay in bed, preventing me from falling asleep, I realized that I had to do something. I couldn’t let this nostalgia continually beat me to a pulp. I had to stand up to it.

I thought about the people who had changed me, the classes that had excited me, the communities that had welcomed me. I acknowledged that yes, these experiences would all soon be facing the crossroads of graduation. Some relationships would soon end, some classes would become afterthought, rallies and sporting events and class activities would go from current events to photo album memories. But by addressing the nostalgia that had long been crawling into the deepest corners of my mind, I was able to come to peace with it. Yes, graduation will be a bittersweet event. But graduation is not for two weeks. Until then, there are memories to be made, relationships to be solidified, legacies to be engraved.

By choosing to co-exist with the nostalgia rather than push it off or ignore it, I can only hope that when I do walk across the stage on June 8, with family and friends in the audience and my peers at my back, I will do so with those memories and people and moments pushing me forward, putting confidence in each of my steps, rather than weighing me down.

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