Dear incoming high school freshmen,

At this point in your lives, you have reached your first big transition. Many attended different elementary schools; however, more commonly, children attend the same elementary school through eighth grade. You have spent approximately nine years at this school, and have created a bond with your class and the teachers. You cannot imagine leaving this, and do not believe it is possible to have anything like this in high school. I am here to tell you that you are wrong. You will make some of your best friends in high school, many of whom you did not know in elementary school. It is a fascinating time. You are discovering your interests and who you wish to become. These four years are more important than any portion of your elementary school experience. Right now you are around 14 years old, and you are entering the stage in your life that you will miss the most when it comes to an end.

Just four short years ago, I was in your shoes. I was preparing to start my freshmen year in high school with more anxiety than I had ever experienced. All of my friends were attending private, charter, or technical high schools, leaving me at my local public high school. I saw myself as lesser than them because of this. Their schools had a better reputation than mine. I now know that the school you go to does not define you; rather, you define the school you go to. High school is what you make it. If you do not try to learn, you will have a negative outcome. You will have poor grades, few friends, and you will struggle to get into college. If you start out strong and study hard, you will create an amazing starting point for yourself. You can only improve. Many view freshman year as a trial run, but I can tell you believing that will become your biggest downfall. If you do not give it your all freshman year, you will go into sophomore year with a low GPA and it will be hard to get it to a point that reflects your true abilities.

You have heard every single guidance counselor, teacher, student leader, principal, and even your parents tell you that you need to get involved. I will admit that I was pretty tired of hearing that by the time I started freshman year. Spoiler alert: you will hear it again throughout the whole college touring process. Freshman year, I did not heed the warnings of these people, and I did not get involved. That is by far one of my biggest regrets. Freshman year I came home after school, did my homework, and watched Netflix. I did not meet my peers through clubs and I was pretty bored. I joined a myriad of clubs sophomore year. I started with Model UN, and found that it was not for me. I found my niche in peer leadership. I was involved with leadership and community service in different ways for the remainder of my high school career. By trying out different clubs, I found where I belonged and what I loved to do. Also, joining clubs should not be solely for the purpose of putting them on your college applications. Colleges know when you join ten clubs senior year just to put them on your applications. As you fill out the Common App, it becomes clear how involved you were. It was kind of frightening that it showed that I had nothing for freshmen year. I made up for it sophomore through senior year, but do not put it off. Join early because you will probably meet some of your best friends through activities, while concurrently discovering where you belong.

You do not have to do anything you are uncomfortable with. High school is depicted in movies as being full of parties and drinking. Sure there are parties and more likely than not you may find yourself in a situation that you do not know how to get out of. My first tip is to be honest with your parents. If you find yourself in a situation where there is alcohol and you are uncomfortable, call your parents to come pick you up. They will be glad you called. If you are able to, leave the situation. You may be worried about other people judging you for leaving, but chances are they will be too drunk to remember you were even there, never mind that you left. Many high schools have an “in the presence of” rule. This means even if you were not drinking, you can be punished for being in the presence of alcohol - especially for athletes, being caught can be detrimental to the rest of your year. Just a reminder, your permanent record starts as soon as you step foot into freshman orientation. There are no warnings. You do not want to make a silly mistake as a freshman and have colleges hold it against you four years later. If you are uncomfortable drinking, do not be afraid to let your friends know; chances are they will not judge you and will not force you to do anything you do not want to, but with this comes a sense of mutual respect. You should not judge your friend for drinking if they respect your choice not to. Do not risk your life or those around you. Never drink and drive, or get in a car with someone who has been drinking. Everyone in your life from your teachers and peers to your family is rooting for you. They all want to see you walk across the stage at graduation and head off to your dream college.

It scares me when people say that high school is the best four years of your life, because that means it doesn't get better. High school will have ups and downs, and those four years will be some of the best years of your life. Make the most of these next four years because they will be over before you know it. I know as a freshman I did not believe everyone when they said that. I had a senior tell me that they were jealous that I was a freshman and to be honest, at the time I thought they were crazy. I understand what they meant now that I have graduated. You have four years of amazing memories ahead of you. You have four years of seeing the best friends you will ever meet every day and being surrounded by the best teachers that you have ever met. When you graduate it should not end, but in all honesty a piece of it does. I went from seeing my best friend every day to not speaking for a few days at a clip. I graduated from high school two weeks ago, and I have yet to see my best friends in person since then. When you graduate something changes and you lose a little piece of something. You will forever hold onto your memories and you will remain friends with those you have encountered along the way. You leave with an overarching sense of nostalgia, excitement, but also regret. You will wish you had taken more art classes (I know that’s one of my biggest regrets) and you will wish you tried harder in your sophomore English class - once again another regret of mine. You will now become an alum of a place that you were once a member. Even with the inevitable small tinges of regret, you will realize that these past four years are more than you could have ever dreamed of.

Make the most of it and good luck,

A Member of the Class of 2016