An open letter to teens from a graduating senior

Samantha Elegant

Dear Redwood students,

When I started my freshman year at Redwood in the fall of 2018, I entered the building clueless, not knowing what to expect at all. As the oldest sibling, I’ve always been the one to test the waters first, not to mention, I went from a tiny, cocooned private school to crowded hallways filled with 2,000 unfamiliar faces. That transition was abrupt and difficult. It made me want an older sibling who could have prepared me for high school and all that it entailed. So, as a graduating senior, I’ll now try to be that older sister I never had. Here are some pieces of advice and lessons I’ve learned over the past four years.

First off, while trying to maintain high grades and getting into a “good” college is important, they are truly not everything in high school. Looking back, I put way too much unnecessary pressure on myself, and I wish my younger self could know that a couple of bad test scores had no influence on my current success. Furthermore, it’s far more valuable to study what you are actually passionate about rather than forcing yourself to take difficult classes simply for an Advanced Placement (AP) credit. I know that parents and teachers say this already, but as someone who has taken many AP classes, some that I loved and others that I didn’t, I can verify that they are right, at least in my experience. And as an added bonus, you will probably maintain higher grades in the classes you are actually interested in while not having to try as hard.

Illustration by Julia Frankus

Although academics were a large stressor, I found that the social aspect of high school was by far the hardest. People change a lot over four years, and that can make relationships difficult at times. Don’t worry though; struggling with social situations is completely normal. Whether people will admit it or not, almost everyone has had some sort of issue with their friends or within their friend group. Although it seems from the outside that every person or group is perfect, they each have their own hidden difficulties, so try not to compare or think you are in the “wrong group.” You are an individual with unique problems, but you are the same as everyone else when it comes to having them. 

  What’s more, pay attention to how you treat others, even those outside your social circle. Little words can mean a lot, and while people might not remember what you did, people will remember how you made them feel. If you’re more “popular” than someone, please realize the influence you have and the responsibility that comes with that. And overall, make an effort to talk to the people who seem different. It might surprise you how similar you actually are. 

Additionally, it’s important to have some sort of outlet from school. For me this was ballet, but it can be anything you want: a sport, a job, an activity, a hobby, you name it. It’s even better, in my opinion, if this outlet removes you from the Redwood community. We are there most of the day, five times a week, so having some space from school is a necessary break. It’s also nice to have people you are close with in whatever outlet you find. These people can sometimes offer a new perspective than those you spend class and lunch with every day because they are outside of the Redwood bubble. 

Along those lines, it’s vital that you take care of yourself. Everyone should try to find a way to destress in order to handle the social and academic pressures of high school, especially in Redwood’s highly competitive environment. This can be something different for everyone — mindfulness practices, time in nature or even taking mental health breaks from school — but learning the value of taking time for yourself is one of the most worthwhile lessons I have learned over the years. You can’t push and push and push without allowing yourself to take a break every now and then. Believe me, I’ve tried. It only leads to burnout. 

Also, as cliche as it sounds, stop trying to be someone you’re not. Stop trying to please others by doing things that you don’t want to do. It’s okay if your idea of fun is different from someone else’s. Find the people that accept you for you and stay with them. I know that we all try to conform to some nameless mold, but by senior year, I’m realizing more and more how ridiculous that is. I’d say this understanding only comes with maturity, and I’m still working on it. High school is something to enjoy, and no matter how hard you force yourself, you’re not going to enjoy high school if you don’t lean into who you actually are. Furthermore, these social standards — hopefully — fall away to some extent after high school, so it’s best to figure out who you are now rather than waiting until you’re an adult and have to navigate a world beyond the cocoon of high school.

Finally, while I may be writing this letter, I’ll admit that I don’t know all the answers. I’m honestly still learning to take most of my own advice, and while this is my truth, I cannot speak for others. However, I do know that high school can be challenging sometimes, and the best wisdom I can give is to have grace. Have grace for others because everyone is just trying their best, and even more importantly, remember to have grace for yourself.


Signing off,