On Jan. 1, 2019, my family and I went on a hike in a snowy forest at the base of Mount Hood.
I remember very clearly how long the walk was, how cold my feet got, how the snowball my brother had thrown at my turned back melted and dripped down my neck. It was a clear day with a little wind. My brother and I made a snowman and discovered a small snow cave that had formed against a wall.
I remember that day like it was yesterday.
But that day wasn't yesterday. On the day this column is published, that day will have been 401 days ago.
As a high school senior, time (or rather a lack of time) has become a very noticeable aspect of my life. Time seems to pass so much faster when you know the biggest change of your life is right around the corner.
Every college has a different starting day, but the average first day of college is around Oct. 1. My first day of college is 238 days away. In 238 days, I will be completely and totally independent. I will be living in a dorm filled with other college students. I will be responsible for my own money, my own choices, and my own life.
On Oct. 1, 238 days from today, I will be celebrating my birthday without my family for the first time. I don't know where I'll be. I have applied to six different colleges in six different states and I honestly have no idea at which one I'll end up spending the four most important years of my life. I could be a two-hour-long drive away from West Linn, or a six-hour-long flight.
All of this will happen before the next New Year's Day.
Two-hundred-thirty-eight days isn't that many. Tomorrow it will be 237 and the day after that 236, every day passing more quickly until my first day of college arrives.
But as that clock counts down to zero, I have that many days to get ready. I have time to practice budgeting and managing time and adulting. I have time to make an educated decision about what college I want to go to and how often I can visit home.
All I can see of my future now is a vague series of shapes in a thick haze, but I know the fog will eventually clear. I will have decided on my future college by May 1, in 85 days. I will graduate high school on June 2, in 117 days. I'll be earning money and saving for college throughout the summer, which is 111 days long. All this time, from now until Oct. 1, I will be planning, learning, and preparing for the future so I can be ready when it arrives.
Four-hundred-and-one days from today will be March 13, 2021. I will have been at college for three quarters. I will have already taken a semester's worth of classes, earned my first semester's grades, made friends, gone to parties, gone on my first date. In 401 days, I will have adjusted to my collegiate life.
Will I look back and remember today like it was yesterday? Will I look back and think "Gosh, remember high school? Remember how stupid and naive I was? Remember how worried I was because I had no clue what my life would be like today? Look at me now. I didn't have any reason to worry."
On Jan.1, 2019, halfway through junior year, I was worried about my senior year. I was worried about my workload, about all of the AP classes I'd be taking and all of the extracurriculars I'd be having. I was worried about my social life, my romantic life, and my personal life. I was worried about juggling all of it, as well as my mental, physical, and emotional health.
Although I knew exactly where I'd be, I was worried about who I would be. I was worried senior year would change me, would turn me into a different, less-happy person.
Now, halfway through senior year, I look back and realize that although some change was inevitable, the most notable changes were in a positive direction. I got a job and thus became more responsible, learned to drive and thus became more careful.
And I am happy. I'm as happy as I've ever been. I'm taking on more responsibility, figuring out what I want the rest of my life to be like, and generally having a successful senior year.
401 days from today, as a college student looking back at senior year, I have faith I will feel the same way. I will look back at all of the good choices I made and all of the preparation I did, and by then, hopefully, all of the worrying will seem pointless.
College exists to guide a student from adolescence into adulthood and to give them the tools they need to be a responsible, functional member of society. I will learn to do what I love. I will learn to be a part of something big. I will learn to use what I have to make the world better for everyone in it.
And on or around June 2, 2024, in 1,578 days, I will earn my first degree, and I will know exactly what to do next.
Kaleigh Henderson is a senior at West Linn High School
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