A Message to Our High School Seniors, Let’s Focus on Today

“Can you please connect with your college advisor tomorrow,” I asked my son. 

“Mom, it’s the first day,” he said.

As his words hung in the air, I couldn’t help but feel regret for encouraging him to look past this moment and year entirely and think about next fall. But as he consistently has over the years, this laid-back, old soul of a kid reminded me to take a breath, look around — and chill out. 

I’m sure I’m not the only parent who needs reminding. 

As senior year begins, it is hard not to get caught up in the future. (Perfect Wave)

It’s hard not to think ahead during senior year

As the final year of high school starts, it’s hard not to get caught up in a cyclone of forward thinking. Starting mid-way through junior year, students and parents are called to focus on the next step and turn their attention to standardized tests, campus visits, and the common app. Every day, the mailbox and inbox overflow with postcards, brochures, and emails from colleges across the country advertising their state-of-the-art amenities and competitive academic offerings.

“Does he have his essay written?” a friend asked at the end of August. I know he had been thinking about it, which seemed like a good start until I noted the tone of urgency in her voice, and a pang of anxiety hit. Has everyone written their essay? Have they already completed their applications? Is he behind before he’s even started?

The message makers would like us to think we are. They want us to believe we are not focusing on the right thing — which would be the next. This comes as no surprise. 

We are always looking toward the next season

Walk through any CVS in early September. Halloween candy and decorations line the aisles. And it’s only a matter of minutes before Santa, reindeer, and glittery 2024 party hats will be displayed. No one is asking us to slow down and soak in the sun of a late summer day – the message is loud and clear: all eyes are on tomorrow.

Midway through the Women’s US Open finals, Chris Evert praised Coco Gauff’s remarkable ability to “stay within herself” amid such a high-pressure match. Despite losing the first set by a considerable margin, Gauff, 19, kept her head down and took it point by point. She celebrated the brilliant winners, centered herself when she fell short, and, shot by shot, crafted an incredible, historic victory.

I don’t know how she managed it. I don’t know how our teens keep the blinders on and stay focused when everyone and everything around them implores them to look beyond themselves and the moment at hand. This pressure is expected from peers, social media, and manic marketers — but not from mom.

I’m working on staying focused on today

It’s the start of senior year, and I plan to edit my messaging. Following my son — and Coco’s — lead, I’m working to stay focused on where we are today. I was a senior, and even a tennis player, once and well know in the end it’s not about the last point — but about all the points, all the moments and all the days, big or small.  

Of course, now that I am a mom, I can’t entirely abandon the reminders that there are things to do and think about regarding the future, but I hope, above all, to support my son’s penchant for keeping his head and heart in the present. In a year full of ‘lasts’ I hope he and I can embrace all the ‘firsts,’ all the unremarkable, unpost-worthy moments — a high five in the hall, an encouraging word from a coach or teacher, an unremarkable Monday night dinner —because I know they are the ones he and I will miss the most next fall. 

More Great Reading:

Parent’s Last Call List for High School Senior Year

About Eileen FloodOConnor

Eileen Flood O'Connor is a writer and mother of four, the oldest of whom has an autism spectrum disorder. She writes often about parenting and the joys and challenges of raising a special needs child alongside three 'lively' boys. Find her at Eileen Flood O'Connor

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