Changing Course

There’s a “challenge” going around social media to post your senior picture, in honor of the Class of 2020 having to miss out on so many special senior activities (how that helps them, I’m not sure, but it’s a fun excuse to reminisce).

So, I dug out my yearbook.

And by that I mean I searched for 15 minutes and gave up because it’s buried in a box somewhere. I then searched on Google and found a .pdf version.

Looking at my class photo from 2007, it’s obvious that I’ve gotten rounder and now wear dorky glasses every day.

But, ideologically, I’m pretty much the same.

With life turned upside-down because of COVID-19, when I think back on those years there is one thing I’ve been mulling over: times when I quit.

In general, quitting is perceived as bad. Sometimes people associate it with failure or laziness. This might ring true in some instances. But other times it simply means changing course.

My sophomore year of high school I was captain of the lacrosse team alongside my older sister, Rachel. It was a fun sport that I began playing in 7th grade, but by the time my junior year rolled around, they implemented “rules” about April vacation.

Specifically, if you chose to take a vacation and miss practices, you would be penalized and would have to sit out games.

The idea of a vacation is that you get to (gasp) relax.

Schools have vacations for good reasons: to recharge, enjoy special moments with family, and to take a break from fast-paced daily life.

I participated in lots of clubs, played at least three sports a year, and prioritized getting good grades. My family took a vacation to Virginia and South Carolina every April and it was something I looked forward to all year. I needed that break.

So, I gave up being a captain and I quit lacrosse. I enjoyed two unforgettable family trips to the mountains of Charlottesville and the North Myrtle Beach seashore. I watched sunrises and learned about southern cultures. I ate ice cream and went fishing. I swam in the ocean and danced on the beach.

I don’t regret those two weeks at all.

You know what I also don’t regret? Quitting basketball my senior year, even though my childhood dream was to become a WNBA star. I collected basketball cards, played on teams year-round, and obsessed over every aspect of the game.

But during my junior year of high school I found myself on the varsity bench. I attended every varsity practice and every varsity game, every varsity team dinner, gave motivational speeches in the varsity locker room, and even asked to “swing” down to the junior varsity team just to get some playing time to keep up my stamina.

At the end of the season, my coach chose not to give me a varsity letter. Instead, she gave me a “participation” certificate, noting that I didn’t get enough playing time during games.

So, for my final year of eligibility, I quit and played ice hockey instead.

Starting a new sport as a senior isn’t common. I didn’t know all of the rules, had to learn the basics of skating (beyond nonchalantly gliding around a pond), and had to get outfitted. I wore some of my dad’s old equipment from his high school days and we bought the rest of my gear from a used sports store.

I fell on the ice. A lot. There’s even a specific story that I won’t recount in its entirety here, but let’s just say it involved crashing into the boards in a very humiliating (and public) way.

Ice hockey was so much fun and I never would have experienced it if I was too afraid to give up another sport that I had loved but untimely was unhappy with because I didn’t feel seen or valued.

Changing course isn’t easy. It often means letting go of perceptions of who you used to be.

In the years since, I’ve turned down jobs or job promotions if I didn’t feel like they were the right fit. I’ve moved across the country multiple times, lived in lots of unique dwellings, and learned new skills.

High school is often a time when people celebrate distinctions that come by means of paper—there are honor societies and honor rolls, class awards and, of course, diplomas.

But it’s the moments when my integrity was tested that I remember most. Would I keep engaging in an activity if I felt it compromised my values? Or would I boldly chart a new path?

Class of 2020, the best advice I can give you is: be brave enough to choose what kind of life you want to live—say “no” to some things, “yes” to others. Be intentional about it.

Something I said “yes” to my senior year?

Volunteering to serve as the school mascot. I dressed up in a ridiculously hot (warm, not attractive) suit—the Gorham Ram.

It was heavy carrying around that big head on my shoulders, dancing for the crowds at football games and pep rallies.

I sweated a lot.

But, if I’m going to be on the sidelines, I’d rather be cheering in way that gives me control, rather than waiting for someone to let me play.

You can ride the bench or you can dance for your friends. You can be miserable waiting for your moment to come or you can take control over your own narrative.

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The world is forcing lots of conditions upon us all right now. The shutdowns due to the pandemic provide a time to think about who, exactly, we’d like to be once everything opens up again.

It’s never too late to change your life or alter some aspect of your identity. Your goal could be drastic or subtle. Maybe it’s taking more time to relax or shifting priorities or trying a new hobby.

Class of 2020, you’re missing out on many special memories—sports seasons, Prom, graduation ceremonies, and parties with your friends, to name a few. But you also have the ability to reflect, to choose to pivot, and to start a new chapter.

These moments with your families? The game nights, the video chats, the home-cooked meals? Those matter too. Enjoy them.

To quote the GHS Class of 2007 song (“Here’s to the Night” by Eve 6): “tomorrow’s gonna come too soon.”

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