It is a surreal time of year for the Class of 2020. Last Friday at 12:30 pm, seniors departed Marblehead High School having completed their last-ever high school midterm. In doing so, they also faced a new reality: grades don’t matter anymore.
Of course, AP classes are as important as ever, and impressive scores on the exams typically offer coveted college credits. But for the senior class, no future grades will be factored into GPAs, nor will they be sent to colleges until after students have been accepted.
For all intents and purposes, high school as we know it is over.
Such a realization, naturally, generates excitement and relief. I cannot count how many times I have stayed up until night dwindles away into dawn, burning eyes scanning pages of notes in preparation for an upcoming exam. The inevitable anxiety I have always associated with test-taking can now, technically, dissipate. After all, what is there to worry about?
And yet, I worry. Because change, no matter what form it assumes, begets uncertainty. For all my life, I knew what came next. Elementary school blended seamlessly into middle, then middle into high. The rungs of my childhood ladder were nailed into place long before I began to climb. My days were structured: go to school, finish after-school activities, do homework, repeat. Learn. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Life was a whirlwind of preparation for what came next.
Now, we have reached that “next.” Many seniors have already been accepted to college, and almost all have submitted every one of their applications. Applications are in, grades are in, so what is next?
Any senior who tells you that he or she knows is lying. Yes, many of us have a general understanding of our interests, of our career aspirations, of what we hope to make of our lives. But really, what do we know? We are young, so incredibly young, and naive. It is a big world out there, and we have hardly experienced any of it. Now is the time when we begin to explore, when we leave the shelter of a planned life, when our ability to manage our own lives will be tested for the first time.
There is still half a year of high school left. We have not begun Senior Project, nor attended prom, nor walked the stage at graduation. We are still high schoolers. But we are reaching the end of the ladder. Our next step is no longer predetermined; we have a world of options from which to choose, and we have no idea which is the best one.
Where will I be happy next year? Where is it best to apply? Can I get in here?
We do not know.
Is that too much money? How do I fill up the car with gas? Is this how you write a check?
We do not know.
What should I wear for my interview? When do you know if it is appropriate to address someone by first name in an email? How am I supposed to go to the dentist by myself?
We do not know.
But we are learning. Our conventional grades are unchangeable. Now, we get real grades. Now, positive and negative evaluations do not result in GPA bumps or drops, but rather indicate the quality of the recommendations we will receive, the jobs we will get, and the colleges to which we will be accepted. The stakes have just soared, and we had better catch up with them.
So, for the Class of 2020, the experience of high school has changed for good. Any relief we may feel after the completion of first semester is negated by our uncertainty about the world looming ahead of us: a world of mistakes, of hardship, and of tests harder than any we’ve been given before. But I am optimistic. Because that world is also one of growth, of strength, of evolution, and of learning, learning, learning. Because that ladder was predictable and reliable, but it was also constricting, dictating every step we took.
Because the Class of 2020 is learning how to fill out checks, pay for gas, apply to college, and leave the ladder behind, and because we are ready for what comes next.