Seniors experience range of emotions as graduation draws near

May 31, 2004|By WANDA T. WILLIAMS

As graduation gets closer, area high school seniors will experience a range of emotional highs and lows as many juggle last-minute details for college, final exams and finding time to say goodbye to friends and family.

"It's very bittersweet," said Jessica Hanlin, a senior at North Hagerstown High School. "I'm so excited and I'm ready to get out of here."

The 18-year-old will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the fall.

"It's going to be like starting all over," said Hanlin, who said none of her friends will be attending North Carolina.

"I'm trying to savor the last couple of weeks we have left," she said. "We're never going to get them back."


Hanlin said graduation is one of life's most stressful experiences.

"The last 18 years have been one big preparation," she said.

With the excitement and pageantry comes the anxiety of leaving familiar surroundings, new financial obligations and being away from home on your own, said Beth Tumarkin, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Hagerstown.

Tumarkin said coping with the stress of graduation starts with open communication and a good support system.

"It's always best to get kids to talk about how they might be feeling," said Tumarkin, who added that graduating seniors don't have to look far for support.

Tumarkin suggests talking with older trusted friends, relatives, teachers or mentors who can offer advice on a variety of challenges.

"I have a lot of friends who are older, and they're in college right now," said Hanlin, who plans on majoring in communications. "I've talked to them a lot."

Fellow senior Keith Singleton, 18, said he turns to his mother for support - but he also relies on the guidance of his 83-year-old aunt to help work out his problems.

"She's always taught me a lot," he said.

Singleton said he can't wait to attend South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C., in the fall. Although he's experiencing some pressure deciding on a major, Singleton said he has a proven formula for dealing with stress.

"I'm just taking things one day at a time," he said, "It's that simple."

Guidance counselors such as John "Jack" Gest, a 12th-grade counselor at North Hagerstown High School, said seniors can't avoid stress, but easing stress starts with organization.

"I tell my students to make a checklist of things you have to get done before graduation, he said. "Organization is the key to keeping yourself get less stressed."

High school graduation is one of the first big lessons in responsibility and a perfect example of what to expect in the real world, Gest said.

Tumarkin said that on graduation day, family members at odds should put their differences aside and avoid putting graduates in the middle of conflicts or forcing students to choose between families in divorce situations.

In order to avoid unpleasant contact, "One side of the family can schedule a celebration lunch and the other side of the family can have a dinner," Tumarkin said.

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