Stop telling freshmen, “It’s just freshman year.”

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Houdah Daniels, Staff Writer

Google stress. Skip the first definition and delve straight into the second one: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

Seniors! Are you stre–? Actually, that’s not even a question. As a junior, I wouldn’t know first hand, but from what I’ve heard, read and witnessed every day, senior year is the epitome of distress. Inevitably, right? And that’s the problem.

I believe a large amount of distress in senior year can be attributed to what we’re made to believe in freshman year – that our stress is illegitimate. I can testify from personal experience that the overarching advice of freshman year was that “it’s just freshman year.” I am hopeful that this message, be it from teachers or upperclassmen, was given with good intentions of wanting freshmen to be reassured that this wasn’t the be all and end all year, in that I had three more years to experiment and pursue new things. However, the reality of this message, at least when I received it, was to say that whatever I was complaining about, especially work-wise, was almost comedic.

Not to be misunderstood, I completely empathize that the additional stress from the college process of junior and senior year from the upperclassmen at the time perhaps outweighed whatever they recalled feeling anxious about in freshman year. However, my growing frustration stemmed from feeling belittled due to my own stresses as a freshman, as opposed to being given advice on how to properly manage this stress. I felt that this message of disregarding that I was even eligible to have any kind of stress in freshman year was unfortunate and disempowering; this was in many respects, the main being that I still walked away from each conversation perhaps a little more frustrated than I went in.

Although it was “just” freshman year, I was still trying to manage a workload tailored to meet my level of difficulty, which gives me every right to take ownership of my stress without having to be ridiculed for it.

My message and advice to any current freshman is that, first of all, it’s not “just” your freshman year. It’s your freshman year, period. As a junior looking back to two years ago, I encourage you to make the most of out of your year in a way that your senior year will hopefully thank you for.”

According to MentalHelp.net, stress is not always a bad thing; it is simply the body’s reaction to changes that create taxing demands. Given this definition, I believe a more appropriate response to a freshman expressing their stress and feeling overwhelmed is allowing them to acknowledge that this is a natural feeling when adjusting to a new environment (socially, academically and everything in between); furthermore, offering them some reassurance that demands may increase in years to come but they ought to fall into good habits in managing themselves now which will put them in good stead for the future.

My message and advice to any current freshman is that, first of all, it’s not “just” your freshman year. It’s your freshman year, period. As a junior looking back to two years ago, I encourage you to make the most of out of your year in a way that your senior year will hopefully thank you for. I urge that, if you’re interested in applying for a club or council, do it be all means. If you get rejected, the good news is that while you have the time to apply again, the more valuable lesson is that you’ll have experienced the beginning of your several rejections. Once you’re able to handle the art of rejection, you’ll be inclined to pursue the art of initiating your own ideas and building confidence to take leadership positions in spaces that you create.

Furthermore, sophomore year isn’t the “filler” year, either. Perhaps you’re finding yourself a little more in sophomore year and are able to apply what you’ve learned in freshman year. Or not – and that’s completely okay. If you find that strayed off the path in freshman year, recognize that there is no set path and the beauty of high school is that you’re still creating your own journey, and mistakes are a key part of it. My advice for sophomores is to screw taboos. If you realize that you’re struggling mentally, emotionally, physically, whatever the case may be– talk it out. There are people around you who genuinely love you and are dedicated to supporting you through difficult times, and they’ll also reveal to you that you’re not the only person going through struggles.

My sophomore year, in a nutshell, was simultaneously my greatest battle and greatest joy. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one: once you experiment with various ways to handle your stress, whether it’s keeping a journal, calling your best friend for hours, asking your parents for advice, speaking to your teachers, whatever the case may be… it will help make your life a lot easier, but you have to be willing to try.

Then, as soon as junior year hits, you’re expected to have been taking at least three APs, have maintained above a 3.60 cumulative GPA to apply for NHS as well as have been a consistent member of a sports team for all of high school, all which is inclusive of what we do during this “just” freshman year – remember? Freshmen and sophomores, don’t listen to anyone who tries to mold you into something that you’re not.

If you happen to meet all of these requirements that “look good for college,” I commend you for your achievements throughout these past years but I want to emphasize that it’s only deserving of praise if all of these things are a genuine representation of you who are as a person. This is something I’ve come to terms with in my junior year so far. If your heart is no longer in something which, had you have just continued pursuing for that extra year or so, would have “looked really good for college”,  allow yourself to give your time and energy into where your heart truly lies. I’ll thank my parents, siblings and trusted teachers for helping me with that one! See – talk it out!

By senior year, if at this point you’re in a varsity sport you’ve hated for the past couple of years, don’t have an incline of interest in social justice and have asked all of your teachers to bump up that 82 percent to a 95 percent – are you really sending colleges an accurate representation of yourself?

Freshmen, let me tell you again why it’s not “just” your freshman year. The challenges and joys of high school that begin in your freshman and sophomore year are what makes you-you and that allows you to create your individual journey, which should relieve you of the pressures of juniors year to all of a sudden pursue what “looks good for college.” By senior year, you want to thank your freshman, sophomore and junior self for allowing your high school experience to be an accurate representation of who you are when you apply to college.

To reiterate my overarching point, everything we do in high school is a cumulative representation of who we are as individuals; if we were to neglect the first couple to only cram everything in Junior year so that we can make a senior year selves “look good” for the next stage in our lives, we would not only be cheating the system but ourselves.