A graduating senior in California mulls her ‘last first day’ of school
By Celine Lopez
STOCKTON, California — It’s 5 a.m. I wake thanks to a buzzing sound that only reminds me of the occasion. I turn off the alarms I set on my iPhone the night before and switch to my Twitter app. But my phone screen is too bright to look at in the darkness of early morning. I’m feeling groggy from lack of sleep due to an overwhelming excitement or dread — it just depends — that comes with the anticipation of the first day of school.
My summer assignments are all done, hopefully, packed in the six notebooks I have for each of my classes which are all color-coded by subject. But I can’t worry about that now. Which outfit from my summer shopping should I wear? Should I change my style from last year? Chic, intelligent, fun, athletic, maybe just some sweats — no, it’s my senior year. I have to look like I’ve grown up over the summer. With my hair slicked to the sides and parted in the middle, I pick a sheer white top that I pair with some flowery shorts. I know later in the year I’ll stop caring about my appearance, but today it’s all about first impressions.
I’ve kept my same backpack that I bought last school year. It’s still in good shape and is filled to the brim with my college-ruled notebooks, pens and pencils, and my special reporter’s notebook for journalism. My lunch is packed, the usual ham sandwich with a side of pita chips and water. I’m heading out the door. I’m ready as I could ever be.
This year, I ask my sister to take a picture of me before we headed to my high school. Taking pictures on the first day of school has been a tradition since I was in daycare, probably. But some time ago I thought I was too cool for that sentimentality and stopped. But today, the start of my senior year, I decide to renew the tradition.
I get to school at 7 a.m., almost a half-hour before the start time. My bag is too heavy to carry, so I store the notebooks for my later periods in one of my teacher’s classes to lighten the load. In reality, I’m in that room a lot. I take three out of my six classes in this classroom, one of them being the same class I’ve taken since I was a sophomore. This classroom, A-8, belongs to my journalism teacher, Don Bott. It’s funny how when I was a sophomore, starting my first year on the staff, I couldn’t really relate to all the seniors who compared that room with a “second home.” Now I understand what they meant.
When the first bell rings, I have to navigate my way through a sea of lost freshmen so I can find my home room class, which is only a temporary class we have the first day so administration ensures that all students have their schedules and know school rules. I guess it’s also meant to help the freshmen out. One freshman in my homeroom sat with his mother. High school can be scary business.
Seeing all the freshmen reminded me of my first day of high school, three years ago. It was nothing like this. The week before 9th grade began, I found out I wasn’t enrolled at Stagg, which I thought I’d be attending. So I had to go to a different high school and wait. My transfer papers took a long time. Meanwhile, I had to sit in a room with all the other “new” students. Eventually, I did get to Stagg but my first day of high school was everyone else’s third day. And I was already failing three of my six classes because I hadn’t turned in the course syllabus and other papers that required my parents’ signature. It wasn’t a great start.
But today was routine. Another stone to step over before I climb that mountain that is college. I’m one step closer. It felt all so normal, as if the last two months of summer break never even occurred. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. This was my “last first day” of high school. Shouldn’t there be some parade for us seniors — an announcement, a sign, a something? Shouldn’t I feel that something was different, something was beginning to change?
None of that was the case. It almost felt empty, but all too surreal. Of course, I couldn’t dwell on sentiment. I still had a full year of school to complete. Just days into the school year, I already found myself anxious over the thought of the college applications I’ll have to do over the next few weeks.
That’s what gets me: The future. And even scarier is the near future, because it’s harder to push to the back of your mind. The thing about the future is that one day, you’ll have to face it when it becomes the present. But right now, I’m wondering about all the present things I’ll be trading for what I want next.
Standardized tests. I’m glad to leave those behind. But my classes? My teachers? The familiarity and comfort of my high school? My hometown. My family and friends. The security of being home. These things are like the baby blanket you’re forced to give up once you become a big kid.
It’s those small moments — those days like the “last first day” or “Senior Sunrise” — that make senior year so special. Those are the times I want to enjoy this year. I hope I’ll cherish them in the future when all the stress and anxiety that it took to get there finally pays off.
I’ve always been the one to scrapbook memories. I’m so sentimental that way. I’m not sure if my real baby blanket was thrown away. But I know my last first day photo will be framed with the rest of my keepsakes.
—Celine Lopez is editor-in-chief of the Stagg Line, the award-winning student publication of Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, California. Contact Celine at firstname.lastname@example.org.