Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Firsts and Lasts: Words from a Senior

When you read this, it will be Wednesday, August 17, 2016, also known as my first day of senior year. Firsts are a big deal to me. Not so much lasts, because usually you don't know when your last anything is going to happen. But in this case, I'll know. I'll know when it's my last high school football game and I'll know when it's my last day using my locker. My last day gathering at my locker with Methica and all my other best friends. I'll know when it's my last day jumping out of the bus, walking into an all too familiar place, and knowing exactly how my day would go. I'll know when it's my last day with people I have known since I was five, and eleven, and some, sixteen: people I've known for forever or people I know in and out and who know me in and out so well it FEELS like forever. It can be a curse to know your last, because the feeling of nostalgia and pain and that deep, aching sadness is inevitable. But it can be nice, too, because it ensures you'll make the most of it.

Because you know it's your last, you won't even bother bringing your phone; you will slip it in your bag and answer it only and only if the special ringtone you set for your parents goes off. It can put pressure on you. Don't suffocate. Don't strangle yourselves in the effort of holding on so tight you lose a finger trying to let go. Love, and appreciate the moment, but don't hype up the fact that it's your last time doing it to the point where you can't even enjoy it anymore. This past year I changed who was closest in my life and who wasn't drastically. This means I gained enemies galore and there are many people I used to talk to who I don't anymore. I accept it. I initiated these changes, after all, and I knew they were right. A secret: if things in your life don't begin to change...then you haven't really changed yourself. I have. I've changed a lot from who I was my whole life. It began in late fall of 2014-2015, my sophomore year. Thus the people in my life needed to change as well. My closest friends have never gone to school with me - many of the people I love most and consider my best friends I know through parties and either my Pakistani or Muslim communities. That's not to say I don't have some of the most amazing people around in my school. I do. It's just amidst all the people I'm not fond of or who I worry are not fond of me I tend to forget that. That's made me dread this year more than anything. I didn't do my summer homework, I feel anxious about returning, and I don't want to mess the routine of summer.

I love summer. I breathe it in and out. If I was a season, I'd be summer. It is sunshine and happiness and luxury and freedom; all the bits of life we forget even exist until we're forced out of our work/school/study obsessed mindsets to take a few minutes to breathe and rekindle the part of us that makes us different than a robot. So you see, it's not unusual for me to hate school. I say that statement all the time. But this year, this year I've really been dreading it. The funny thing is I've accepted it. Me, the most sentimental, emotionally in touch, and nostalgic person to exist. The girl who misses what she loves before it even leaves her. You know what? I'm glad I do. I'm glad I accept it and that I'm excited and not afraid of my future. I'm excited about the wedding I have to attend next summer (Inshallah) and my graduation party (Inshallah) and beginning university (Inshallah) and making lifelong friends and working on a career my heart is in (Inshallah) and never having to see the people who I don't want to see from high school ever again. It's comforting to me to know that whoever is meant to stay in my life will. He knows all. Besides, I hate when people act as though they have no say in the matter. You do. You do! If you want someone to stay in your life, be honest. Make efforts, and if you feel like they aren't being returned bring the issue up. Prioritize face to face interactions and more personal gestures like sending snail mail, facetiming/skyping, and calling. If those don't work, it's okay. At least you have social media. You'll always find a way to be in touch with those who matter. If you aren't? It wasn't meant to be, because distance only destroys the friendships that were never really there.

Despite my acceptance and trust (I'm lucky. I believe in God and I completely trust He will do what is best for my future. If you don't, I hope you still find comfort and trust the universe and the world. Everything happens for a reason.) and all my complaints of the school year, in my heart I'm aware and ready to cherish every moment and take advantage of it. Some people will take the opportunity to remind me to not wish time away, but I'm not. Even in my deepest bits of hatred for school I realize how short time is and how quickly it will all be over. I always live a life I don't want to regret. I try to minimize regret in every way I can and that's why I do my best to try new things and go on adventures and seek out new experiences. My extreme dislike of regret motivates me to make sure I have nothing TO regret. I'm not always successful, but at least I try.

To myself and my fellow seniors: Go to every football game. Attend as many events as you can. Let every teacher who has ever helped or impacted you know, and not just on the last day when everyone is rushing to say their goodbyes and they all begin to mush together. Do it early; do it throughout the whole year, not just on one day, and do it in a meaningful way. Take pictures and share them. Freeze and capture these happy memories in whatever way you can. Print them out. Don't get too caught up in that, though. Be happy. Look back on all your growth and prepare yourself for more, always more. Fill every moment of sadness. Do not grow bitter. Spend time with whoever matters. Let go of those who don't - after all, what's stopping you? It's senior year. Participate in the powderpuff game, join clubs, go to basketball games and other competitions, too. Support your friends. Thank those who have been there for you. Be honest. Be kind. Speak your heart. Do anything that scares you. Ask questions. Attend class. Go to high school and be a part of it for the short time you can. You will NEVER, EVER get to be a high school student again. Think about what that fact means. Be curious. Never stop learning. Volunteer. Take classes that challenge you. Apologize for your mistakes, but demand others treat you with the respect you deserve. Dance your heart out. Yell from the stands. Perform at the talent show. Be grateful for the ease and effort from your teachers and that high school provides you. Surprise everyone. Give gifts. Bake cookies on Valentine's Day for all your friends. Start a club. Publish your poetry in the school magazine. Work on the yearbook. Buy one.

I hate school so much. I hate the work. I hate everyone in it and all the teachers and and just everything about school. I hate it all.

But really, I don't. That's something I hope people know. I live in a small town and go to a small school. Both are heavily hated by almost everyone attending or living in either. By "heavily" I mean approximately 99.9999% of the student population. I don't. I love both my town and my school. I've lived in this town for 14 years of my life. The first three I don't remember. Living a life like mine, I'm beyond blessed. I can hardly breathe those words enough. I'm not saying I don't complain and cry. I do. I have something I never realized others lacked until presented with a piece of poetry that opened my perspective on it this past year of 2016, maybe a month ago in July. That thing is a home. A permanent place you know you belong. A place you'd be missed from if you left. A place that holds my heart. This neighborhood that housed my best summers and my first best friends and my childhood best friends, Katelynne and Faith. Summers of ice cream trucks and friendship bracelets and Bratz and Barbies and bike rides around the cul-de-sac and picnics and Superkids and memories that can't be explained, only remembered between the neighborhood kids who lived them.

I've always loved my town, this small town reminiscent of every fictional world I've so hungrily wished to live in, every movie, book, and television show featuring a small town (a vast, vast majority of them). This town, the prince and lover to Juliet that housed my home and that will always be home to me. While everyone is eager to leave, I'm not. You have your whole life to be away from your parents and in scary, big places. Hold onto comfort and security and love when it is there, because it seldom stays. I've also accepted this. I'm ready to move to a place that is closer to all these author visits and events that happen in Chicago and Illinois. I know what that means, though. I know how much I'll cry when we leave and how long it will take me to ever feel comfortable (months and months and months; I'm a crier) when I come home from university and can't see Faith's dad across the street, working on his flowers or watching a game in his garage; when I can't go on a walk with my sister and swing on the very swings we swung on when we were students of this elementary school and not trespassers and old people stuck in a haze of nostalgia. You want to try everything in life. You can't wait for all your firsts, and sometimes in the process of that you wish away the time you have. Life will catch up to you whether you want it to or not so don't bother trying to beat it. Live. Be present. Taste good foods. Do what makes you feel good. Be honest. Don't hint. Be blunt: speak your feelings clearly. Don't wait for them to guess and pick up on the fact that you're upset. Let them know. My school is also a blessing. My beautiful high school, which I was never attached to the way I loved my elementary and middle schools. The things that happen in high school are astounding. The places you can go, the things you're old enough to do, the experiences your parents now let you experience. Getting your license, having friends who can drive you places, being allowed to go into the city alone, creating and leading Muslim Student Association, getting my writing out there; there are so many parts of growing up that absolutely rock. Playing variety level tennis, volunteering at amazing places to get hours but also to have fun, making even more and better friends, participating in speech competitions.

My school is full of diversity. It is full of as many minorities as there non. It is full of people who for the most part understand, appreciate, learn about, and respect my religion (Islam) and my hijab. A school where people not only accept but compliment my hijab, who befriend me and live life by my side as if I'm the same person who I'd be without my hijab, which I am, I really am, except for the ways it makes me a better person. A school that would allow a Muslim Student Association with no fuss or issue about it for no reason (because really, what's wrong about wanting to lessen ignorance and make an open space for people to learn about different aspects of Islam?). A school where the principal and assistant principal readily allow the Muslim students a place to pray when one of the five prayers falls during the school day, and a school where the teachers will spare us two or three minutes to be late or leave class early so that we are never sacrificing our religion for our education. I am lucky, beyond lucky, to go to a school that let me wear leggings with my tennis dress and wear my hijab as I please. Not as a result of fighting for my rights, but because they offer, because I go to a school that makes space for me. A school that understands Islam is beautiful to me and is something I value too much to be happy without it. A school that is full of teachers who put in their utmost effort to prepare me and help me get a 5 on the AP exam for United States History and a 4 in English. A school full of intelligent and such extremely, unbelievably talented, cultured, and well rounded people who know about the world but know how to have fun and party as well. Not everyone is like this, and of the 1600ish students maybe only less than half are, but however many, I am just lucky to be surrounded by those people. I love my school and where I live and though I dread, and I complain, and I get anxious, and I worry, and I freak out, and I get scared, and I shrink back,

I am ready, arms stretched wide, eyes shut, to jump. To fall through every amazing, wonderful, heartbreaking or funny thing that will happen, every friendship I will make or increase, every event I will attend, and every first from my first day as a senior to my first game of senior year to my first ever school dance to every last like my last first day of high school that will leave me crying for days on end and with a throbbing heart that I'll have to, at times, revive back into existence until I softly sway through the last cloud that will cover me in wisps of clear white until I gently land onto the stage where the principal and vice principal and a number of others I don't know will shake my hand and wish me luck and watch with knowing smiles on their faces and possibly the tiniest bits of nostalgia as I struggle not to cry with the sounds of everyone cheering, our hats thrown into the air and falling back down, surrounding us like confetti sprinkled from the sky.

Yesterday I was a freshmen. Oh, how I remember it. But in two days I'll be a senior (the day you're going to be reading this I'll already be one). I will rule the school. I will be the scary upperclassman. I will cherish every second of it. I hope you do, too. I hope it is perfect for you. I hope you do whatever you can to ensure it is an amazing year. Planned or unplanned, because -

Life is spontaneously splendid.
Aiman Ghani