Dear Incoming Juniors
May 13, 2022
Junior year might be one of the worst years of your schooling — or so they tell you. And in part, this may be true. Junior year should come with a warning label: “Beware: difficult classes, stressful testing, and college and career pressures will ensue.” For most of you, the year will not be easy, and you may encounter new worries, new pressures, new stressors that force you to adapt and mature. And that can be incredibly intimidating. Yet because of these new worries, new pressures, new stressors, junior year can also become a year of intense personal growth — which is not necessarily a bad thing (you will understand soon why underclassmen get a bad rap).
Learning who you are as a person, as a student and as an adolescent is crucial to junior year. This year is the best time to figure out for yourself what you truly want and where you want to go. I don’t mean plan out the next ten years of your life, though. In fact, the prospect of figuring out what you want to do with your life at a mere 16 or 17 years old is a tall order, and anxiety-inducing for many. And what you want right now will change in the next few years. Who and where you are at this moment in time will change. Even within the next year, you will grow and become someone new, and it is worth it to take the time to self-reflect on your values.
I urge you, as a soon-to-be graduate myself, to take the time during junior year to discover what truly matters to you. To focus on finding yourself and not let outside pressures determine your course in life. Because this year is the year when you begin to look beyond high school — whether to a career or to college — and begin the process of spreading your wings. I believe it is paramount that in order to decide on a direction that you will be fulfilled by, you must first know yourself and what it is you want.
Yes, junior year will be a test of strength and will. Yes, it will teach you grit, determination, and how to live with sleep deprivation. Yes, it may be a shock to your system, teaching you your limits. But all of that can be a powerful mechanism for growth, helping you to discover coping methods and figure out how to balance life’s demands with self-care. But all of that can also become overwhelming, and when it is, take a breath. Take a break. Take time for yourself to recharge and reflect, because it is not worth it to sacrifice your mental health for a “successful” junior year (trust me, I tried it and — spoiler alert! — it has no benefits whatsoever). Do not be afraid to push yourself, but also do not be afraid to rest when you need it because burnout is real and will drag you down. Maybe you will be one of the lucky few for whom junior year is a breeze, but for most, the year tends to be marked by more emotional, academic, personal and athletic stressors than previous years, so figuring out the best way for you individually to cope is incredibly helpful.
I have gone on and on about the doom and gloom of junior year and how to find direction within it, but I have another equally important piece of advice: HAVE FUN. This is your junior year! You are finally an upperclassman — or woman or being. You know more people, most of you can now drive and you likely have a lot more freedom than your freshmen selves. So enjoy it: go to games (or shows or plays or volunteering — whatever floats your boat), hang out with friends (responsibly, of course), and pursue your passions. As someone whose junior year was engulfed entirely by the pandemic, I truly wish I had had the opportunity to participate more in my school — even as a relatively intoverted person. The experiences you have during junior year (and senior year) will stick with you and mean more than any academic or even extracurricular accomplishments. So live it up (again, relatively responsibly — you still have a future to think about)!
Junior year might be one of the worst years of your life — or it might be one of your best. You will experience new pressures and new problems, meet new people and be put in new situations. It is a time of great growth, but it should also be a time of great fun. Junior year is a good time to “work hard, play hard” but, most importantly, you cannot forget to rest hard. Take care of yourselves and each other, and good luck!