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Appreciate the Now

Appreciate the Now
Alayne Birnhak

A certain feeling creeps in during March. If you are a senior, live with a senior, are friends with a senior, teach a senior, coach a senior, or counsel a senior, you might relate to the protagonist in Julia Mills’ I am Stuck. In other words, most of us at Wardlaw+Hartridge can. 

The book starts out with Turtle on his back. (In the slipcover, Ms. Mills indicates that the critter is male.) The reader does not know how Turtle wound up in that predicament, but what a predicament it is. Duck, Kangaroo, and Armadillo all pass by, offering suggestions that ultimately don’t pan out. Next comes Possum, who assumes that Turtle is trying to be like her but learns that this is not the case at all. Turtle admits that he feels “scared, frustrated, and alone.” Assuring Turtle that he does not need to be by himself, Possum lies on her back, shares pleasant observations, and brainstorms enjoyable activities that they can do while looking up at the sky. Possum’s positivity gets Turtle’s mind off the dilemma. Then, after a downpour, Possum makes a comment that causes Turtle and her to burst into laughter. We do not know whether Possum even intended to be funny, but an amazing thing happens as the two friends are in hysterics… Turtle pops right side up. Apparently always prepared for a party, Possum tosses confetti from her pouch. Turtle smiles and remarks with gratitude, “Getting stuck isn’t so bad when you are here.”  

Ms. Mills wrote this tale in 2023, but she teaches her audience age-old lessons about the importance of being there for another and being present. Why is such insight valuable for 12th-graders on the brink of a new chapter yet to be determined? Well, come late winter/early spring, many seniors tend to experience sentiments similar to Turtle’s. They feel stuck.  

Students recognize that few – if any – strategies exist to strengthen their likelihood of acceptance once Regular Decision release is right around the corner. In fact, although Admissions Committees usually do some last-minute shaping of a class, most applicants’ fates have been sealed by this point in the cycle. Seniors can do very little but wait for a status update at the end of March or beginning of April. This reality can prove frustrating, particularly when what is anticipated is only a few short weeks away but time mysteriously seems to stand still. In short, waiting can make one feel stuck.

How can all of us who care deeply about seniors provide support during this challenging period? We can convey empathy as we remind them that fixation on what could be, good or bad, will not lead to a certain result. It also will not make the days move more quickly; if anything, time might appear to drag because dwelling on potential outcomes leaves little mental bandwidth and zaps energy. 

What could 12th-graders do to cope with the uncertainty instead? They could focus on what they can control, which is how they spend the upcoming weeks. Personally, I hope they follow Turtle and Possum's lead and just be. Immerse themselves in the moment. Concentrate on the present. Or, as Patrick Mazur, Assistant Director of Regional Admissions at the College of Charleston, advised at W+H’s recent College Panel, “Have fun.” Regardless of the expression, the idea is the same. Students should put it into action, with the full encouragement of everyone in their corner.  

So, seniors, do what brings you joy. If you are fascinated by robots, try to build one. Develop a new skill. Get lost in a book. Organize a movie marathon. Push yourself to tackle a new piece of music or a more demanding workout. Volunteer. Cheer on W+H athletic teams. Grab a bunch of friends, many of whom you will not see regularly in a matter of months, and go out. It doesn’t matter where – the coffee shop, the boba place, your favorite local restaurant, the neighborhood park, New York City, Philly – and enjoy each other’s company. 

Like the characters in I am Stuck, laugh. And, if you share Possum’s love of confetti and want to throw around some in the College Counseling suite, we’d be okay with that, as long as it gets cleaned up before Leaford Thompson and his facilities maintenance crew stop in!