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  • Writer's pictureMaxwell Benner

Dear Class of 2025,


I have struggled (and still am struggling) with these topics, and hope to offer oncoming seniors some of what I've learned. I am not perfect, I don't have my life figured out, and I'm learning more about myself and the world every single day. Things that work for me very well might not work for you. Everything I say is wildly opinionated. 


The Rustin Herald 2024

Making friends 


I’ve been lucky enough to have a small group of friends throughout high school, but I struggled to make friends past that. The thought of putting myself out there and the possibility of rejection was lethal. At the end of my junior year, I realized there’s a simple key that really helps making friends: invite them out. People like being invited to things because it makes them feel included. Invite them to go into town, go to the park, play video games, go to a school event, or get food. There's an infinite amount of possibilities and activities to use as an excuse to bond with potential friends. 


Pushing yourself to the point of having enough confidence to even ask the question is really difficult. That strength will come from an inner love for yourself and who you are. It's really hard to comprehend, but it's better to be yourself than be anyone else. If people don't like who you are, they aren’t worth your time. Not everyone will like you. It sucks, but it’s true and there's nothing you can do about it. You’ll find your people; Their friendship and love is worth the possibility of rejection. 


I started inviting everyone to everything, and it paid off. I have more friends than I thought I could and the majority of those relationships came from me first reaching out. Every relationship has to start with someone putting themselves out there. Instead of waiting, try doing it yourself. It’s so, so, so hard, but it gets easier the more you do it. Eventually, it'll feel like nothing. 


Losing friends 


Everyone is guaranteed to lose friends. Whether you no longer talk because of a big fight or a slow fade for no particular reason, it'll happen. Don’t define your worth as a person solely based on the relationships you’ve lost. You needed to lose that person to become more - you. You haven’t met all of the people you’ll love yet. There are so many people out there that will love you. You’ll make new friends. 


The Pedestal 


Every single person is insecure. Every single one. Me and you too. The degree of intensity obviously varies from person to person, but nonetheless. I used to put other kids my age or older on this pedestal. He’s more outgoing, she’s so beautiful, and they have so many friends. I felt like I couldn't talk to people because I felt they were cooler than me. As time went on, I naturally began to love myself more. I started talking to people on the pedestal. I found that they’re just as insecure as I am and that (for some of them) I was on their version of the pedestal. Once I found that everyone is like me, it lessened significantly overall.


Rip down the pedestal and find that there's a set of stairs there the entire time. Certain people will always be intimidating to speak to, but they're just one step away. All it takes is for you to take the step


Everyone is focused on how others perceive them, feel or have felt loneliness, and most likely won't give you a hostile reaction to initiating conversation. No one is better than you. You are not better than anyone. It’s ok to talk to people you admire. Even if whatever you tried to achieve failed, you should love yourself for being capable of putting yourself out there. 


Coping


College admissions season in addition to being a regular teenager is a damn nightmare. So much stress. So much insecurity everywhere. It's extremely important to have some coping strategies up your sleeve. There are the more common suggestions: talk to a friend, go to therapy, pursue a hobby, and listen to music while on a walk. Some will work for you, some won't. Everyone's different. Here are my favorites:


Gratitude list

I was so resistant to people saying “just be grateful” growing up until I did it. Make a list of all of the things that made you happy this week. It makes you think about the positive rather than dwelling on the negatives. 

Art

No one is a “bad artist”. I truly believe that everyone has artistic value. Whether it's poetry, sculpture, painting, scribbling, or many more, it relieves stress. Art therapy is very real. You can do it alone or do it with a group. It could be something silly and fun or emotional and relieving. Either way, you don't need talent to cope with art. Try it.


By far my favorite art medium that has helped me cope with every kind of emotion is scrapbooking. Scrapbooking isn't just for grandmas. It can be whatever you want it to be. Put pictures, poems, receipts, trash, drawings, and paintings in it. Cut them up and glue them together. Get your friends to make stuff and put it in there too. It's more rewarding than you’d think. It helps me appreciate what I have and have a collection of my doodles. It takes no skill. Seriously, try it. 

Dancing

Dancing alone in your room, with friends in your living room, at a concert, in a mosh pit, or at a basement show, can be so freeing. Dancing is embarrassing and shameful for some. I’ve heard, “I don't know how to” as an excuse a billion times. No one does. Yes, people do it professionally but there's no professionals judging you at homecoming. Dancing can be really vulnerable. Especially if you're the first one to do it. It can also feel great and it’s harmless. It’s ok to look a little goofy. Secure people appreciate and admire the people that can dance freely without care. Most people can’t do it. Letting go and being your silly dancing self is so absolutely rewarding. Dancing overall, publicly or privately, is an amazing stress reliever. 


Teacher relations


I never felt connected to any of my teachers growing up. Yes, I liked them but I wasn't a student that stood out. I kept to myself. As high school has gone on, I’ve put more effort into talking to my teachers. I know it seems obvious, but I had to realize that they're people too. They have interests, families, likes, dislikes, and a sense of humor. They're not just here to make me anxious, call on me out of nowhere, and grade my work. Though these relationships are professional and not a real friendship, it's still invaluable to try to connect with your teachers. 


I’ve found that the better that a teacher knows me they’re more understanding when I don’t wanna participate entirely or don’t hand things in on time. The better I know a teacher, I feel more connected to the material, safe in the classroom, and motivated to participate. It greatly strengthens a resource we take for granted. Just because you're a senior, it's not too late to form strong bonds.


On an almost monthly basis I would make a sweet treat and hand it out to a bunch of teachers. During lunch and learn, I'd go room to room. I wanted an excuse to see old teachers. I recommend doing this. Who doesn’t love treats?


We have some really really awesome teachers at Rustin. I highly urge you to attempt to talk to them whenever you can and see who you relate to. Then continue to pursue the connections that are more compatible. You obviously won't get along with every teacher but I guarantee there's someone out there that you’ll click with. It’ll make your everyday life so much better. I promise. 


Clubs


Pursue what you're passionate about!!! It's not too late to join a new club your senior year!!!


While struggling through mass amounts of school work and stress, I would use the Herald to do something productive, distract myself for a while, and cope. I’m doing it right now. Senior year is so loud but keeping up with clubs every so often can help lessen the noise.


Clubs can be such a good resource for making friends and emotional regulation. I feel very bonded to all of the Herald members. I've spent so much time with them and I love our shared interest. I love that they love what I love. There’s a place out there for anyone to find their people. There’s a place for you but it's up to you to exude the energy to find it.


I’m extremely biased but I recommend RHS TV, The Herald, and the German club. They’ve been nothing but phenomenal.


Leveling


Regardless of the grade, my opinion on this stands. Going into junior year I agreed to take two APs: English 11 and US history. Big big mistake. My biggest recommendation is don't over stretch yourself. If you want to take an AP, please take one you're passionate about. I don't care for history very much, and it has nothing to do with my major. It doesn't make sense for me to take that class. On the other hand, as a senior I'm taking AP German. It also has nothing to do with my major but since I'm passionate about it, I had a great time. AP’s can be amazing, just please don't take ones you don't like. 


You’ve already picked your classes so you’ve experienced the pressure put onto students to ‘level up’ so it’ll look better on college apps. What's more important is your mental health and enjoyment of your life / schedule. It's ok to level down once you’ve found that it's not for you. It doesn’t make you less smart or hardworking. Do what's right for you.


18 isn't the magic number


Growing up I thought that seniors were cool because they had their life figured out. Now as one, I’ve realized that that couldn't be farther from the truth. There isn't this magic day where you turn 18 and all of a sudden your life and future career make sense. It's a long process that never ends. We’re all figuring out our lives until the day we die. 


Some people are lucky and know what occupation they want to do from birth, but a lot of people don't know what they want when they graduate. If they do “know,” there's a good chance they’ll change their mind. The future is unpredictable and it's ok to accept that and take time to know yourself. You don't need to know what you want to do for the rest of your life. You aren’t less valid or less successful for not knowing yet. You have the rest of your life to figure out what you need.


Getting into college


Don’t let anyone shame you for not going to college. This is your journey and whatever you need to do is on you. No school, or trade school, is just as valid. 


If you are going to college, the application process is so stressful. There are so many things to do. It’s simple advice but all i can say is, take it one task at a time. Only apply to schools that you can actually see yourself going to. Don’t waste your time on applying to 15 schools. Ask your teachers for rec letters as early as you can. Some of them set limits on how many they’ll do each year, and it gives them more time to complete it. 


I implore you to apply for early action or early decision. Early action is when you apply to college months earlier than the regular deadline and in return you hear your results before the majority of people. Early decision is the same thing but if you get accepted you have to attend the school you got into. You can only apply early decision to one school and it's binding. A major benefit is that the acceptance rate is usually higher for early decision. The downside is since its binding it can be financially tricky. 


I’m attending Emerson in Boston for film next fall. Emersons acceptance rate typically is 42.7% but for early decision it goes up to 59%. Also, my school's early decision and early action deadline was November 15th, while the regular deadline was February 15th. I got my acceptance letter a day or two before christmas. My classmates were all freaking out about waiting for letters much later in the year. You can avoid that by applying early.


I didn't think I'd get into my school at all. I see this a lot with other seniors. Don’t doubt yourself. You got this. If you don’t get in it wasn’t meant to be. A college will not solely dictate your future success. 


SAT


Your SAT score doesn't define you. Just because your peers got higher scores it doesn't necessarily mean they’re more intelligent than you. Peers that got lower scores than you aren’t less intelligent either. As time goes on the SAT becomes less and less significant in applications. A lot of schools are test optional. I’m sure having an extremely high score may raise an application's “value” but having no test score doesn’t hurt you. 


I was freaking out going into senior year with a below average SAT score. I fell asleep and ended up getting a 1010. I don't know how I managed to do that, but I did. If you’re going to an art school (like me) most likely your SAT has very little weight. I didn’t even submit my score.


Learning to say goodbye


Freshman, sophomore, and junior year, I wanted to graduate so bad. In the beginning of senior year, immense sadness hit me. Graduation now felt real and horrifying. For a while I struggled severely with the concept that this will no longer be my every day. I had to learn to say goodbye to high school. I thought I'd feel this sadness greaten as the year went on, but the opposite happened. Everyone’s different, so I can guarantee anything but the concept of leaving gets significantly easier after you get into school (or figure out what you want to do next year). Senioritis is very real, and it makes stepping away plausible. 


I used to feel sad that the teachers I'm close with will continue this life with a new student in my place. Now, it brings me joy. Someone else gets to experience a similar closeness - a similar bond. Though their memory of me will no longer be in the front of their mind, I find comfort in the fact that I know that it’ll be set off to the side; I hope you can too. Just because you won't be around anymore doesn't make anything that you accomplished or bonds that you made here less important


Feeling like you're losing a part of yourself in this process is totally normal. Loss is proof that there was love in the first place. I really love this school and I, along with many of my peers, feel a large sense of loss moving on. As seniors we’ve lived out our high school lives and everyone's time inevitably comes.


I’m still learning to say goodbye. I’ll figure it out some day and so will you.


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