If you’re a recent high school grad, we want to first apologize. For many (if not all) of you, senior year was cut short. We know you must feel sad, angry, disappointed, confused. You’ve watched graduating classes before you and looked forward to your turn—to attend senior prom; to walk across that stage and be handed your diploma; to say heartfelt goodbyes to beloved classmates and teachers. These promised moments were either altered or stolen completely. And for that, we are so sorry.

We know it’s upsetting, it’s unfair, and it’s painful. But we also know that you have so much to look forward to, still. Your journey does not end here. As you close this chapter that took a turn none of us could have predicted, you will turn the page that begins your next chapter of life: one in which you will meet more wonderful people, have more defining moments, and achieve more than you’ve yet to dream. In a world of uncertainty, that is for certain.

Now, we want to help you properly and delicately close this chapter. We want to help you turn that page, with confidence, pride, and hope. To do so, we ask you to confront your grief from senior year and, yes, prepare yourself for more uncertainty.

What You’re Feeling Is Grief: How to Properly Grieve the Loss of Senior Year

When you think of grief and loss, you probably think of death. The death or loss of a loved one is the most prominent and often the most painful form of grief, but it isn’t the only form of grief. Any loss can cause grief, including the loss of a job, a miscarriage, a damaged relationship, a forgotten or unfulfilled dream, or the incompletion of a cherished vision—such as the end to your senior year of high school.

Dr. Greg Handel, a Licensed Psychologist at Thriveworks, explains that “the loss of one’s senior year is a particularly difficult type of grief because it doesn’t generate a lot of sympathy from most people, yet it is the loss of once in a lifetime events that can’t be recovered.” He goes on to say that “it is important that these teens realize that they are not experiencing these times alone and that they are experiencing historical events that are still the gateway to the rest of their lives.”

Grieving is an incredibly personal experience. There aren’t an X amount of actions you can take to get over your grief. Instead, you have to give yourself grace, do what you can to grieve your loss properly, be patient, and then move on. Here are a few tips that might help:

  1. Acknowledge any tough or uncomfortable emotions. Don’t “just brush it off,” don’t “sweep it under the rug.” Confront your emotions head-on and fast. The longer you let these feelings fester, the more harmful they become. You can help to move your grief along by acknowledging any pain, anger, depression, or disappointment that is associated with your senior year.
  2. Remember that grief looks different for everyone. Your friend might be undisturbed by the unexpected end to senior year. Your other friend might be a little upset but overall okay. Whatever it is your friends are feeling or experiencing, you don’t have to share those feelings or those experiences. Remember that everyone is different: Their reactions, their emotions, their coping mechanisms, their grieving processes are all different. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
  3. Seek out and welcome support. It’s okay to admit that you’re upset about how your senior year ended. You might be a little reluctant to say so to your parents, out of fear of upsetting them further, but trust us: They’d rather know how you’re really feeling so they can lend their support and so you can work through your grief together. Remember, this is likely a loss for them, too. You can also find this crucial support in your friends, siblings, a grief counselor, or another mental health professional.

These tips are important to grieving any loss, including the senior year that you’ve envisioned and looked forward to for so long. We hope they’ll help you close this important chapter with greater ease, as you prepare for a rough start to the next.

Preparing for an Uncertain Start to Your Freshman Year of College

For many, the beginning of college is looking as uncertain as the end of high school. Soon-to-be freshmen wonder:

  • Will all of my classes be online?
  • If so, how will I meet people?
  • Will I have to wear a mask to class?
  • Should I even go to campus?
  • Should I just take my classes from home?
  • Is it even safe to go to class?

These questions just barely scratch the surface of what new freshman are thinking. They don’t know what to expect—nobody does. Some colleges have released their back-to-school plans, but even these plans are uncertain as COVID cases continue to surge in the US. It’s virtually impossible to predict how COVID might ebb and flow, of which these back-to-school plans rely on. This uncertainty can make the prospect of college frightening, anxiety-inducing, and maddening. Unfortunately, though, we can’t do anything to bring clarity to what the start of your freshman year of college will be.

What we can do is learn to cope with and prepare for more uncertainty. If you’re feeling anxious because you don’t know what to expect in this new chapter, try a few of these calming techniques:

1. Admit that you’re feeling anxious.

If you’re feeling anxious about the uncertain start to your senior year, admit it. Scream it. Write it down. Talk it out. Do whatever you have to do to get these feelings out. This often provides immediate relief.

2. Visualize a calmer self.

Take a few deep breaths, close your eyes, and imagine a calmer you. Envision your body relaxing and feel it happen in real-time.

3. Find comfort in an absolute truth.

Instead of focusing on the uncertainty at hand, think of an absolute truth. An absolute truth is something that’s true always and everywhere. For example: “I’m lucky to be alive,” or, “I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head.” These aren’t copouts—they’re absolute truths that we take for granted. You can think of your own or borrow ours.

The unexpected end to high school was unfair. The uncertain start to college is unfair. But it’s okay because your journey does not end here. It’s only just begun and despite its uncertainty, you’ll learn to master it. We just know it.

Out with the Old, in with the New: Moving Forward

The year 2020 has been an unexpected, uncertain year for all of us. If you are a recent high school graduate and you’re grappling with the surprising end to your senior year, be sure to 1) address any difficult emotions, 2) remember that grief looks different from one person to the next, and 3) consult your support system. Additionally, prepare for more uncertainty. If you’re feeling anxious about what the start of your college career will look like, practice calming techniques.

We know that this year has been hard on you. But remember: there is so much to look forward to. We’ll be here cheering you on from the sidelines.