Teens Have Their Say

In a candid conversation, a dozen rising high school seniors talk about socializing, cheating, vaping, playing sports, worrying about college—and much, much more.
Teens Have Their Say

 

What if a computer catches you for plagiarism but it’s wrong? Should school safety officers be armed? And your chosen ways to relax after the pressures of studying, playing sports and worrying about college—would fighting fires with a volunteer fire department be among them?

These issues all came up recently when BERGEN, observing a yearly tradition, gathered a dozen rising high school seniors from around the county and asked them questions. Our annual purpose: to find out what the kids are experiencing—and thinking.

A scientific sample of typical kids? We claim no such thing. Truly typical kids are much too swift to be lured into a protracted sit-down for a magazine’s “third degree.” No, this group skews toward the achieving—not to say overachieving. But they’re articulate, and they’re keen observers in a position to observe.

We all think we know teenagers, and we’re partly right. They are impatient with the imperfection of adult authority, and they do sprinkle their sentences with unnecessary “like”s. But BERGEN found out once again this year that high schoolers can’t be comfortably pigeonholed. They’re individuals, and they sometimes surprise.

Rita: What stresses you guys out?
Kayla:
I’m a big softball person, and from late February to early June is all softball. Like, I don’t get to see a lot of my friends, and I kind of feel bad. Because my friends will be like, “Oh, hey, do you want to go out Friday night?” “No, sorry, I can’t. I have softball.”
Rita: Do a lot of you play sports, by a show of hands?
[Several hands go up.]

Rita: OK, a lot of you. Are you playing sports because you love the sport or because you think that’s going to help you get into college?
Shahd:
So I first started doing track and field last year, my sophomore year. I first did it because I knew it was going to look somewhat good in college. But over time I started actually falling in love with the sport.
Eleeza: I play softball too, and I agree that it’s a really big time commitment. But I really love doing this sport. Hanging out with the team and team bonding and stuff— that’s a big part of my life during softball season. But balancing that with schoolwork toward the end of the year, especially in the time of AP exams—I feel like that’s sometimes a struggle.

Rita: I imagine time management really comes into play with all of this. Anything else that you guys are feeling stressed about? A couple of you mentioned the college application process in the mini survey we sent you (see sidebar).
Sasha:
That process as a whole is really stressful. Because for me it’s like there’s a lot of pressure to decide exactly what you want your future to be. And rather than looking at it as a way to explore and discover what you love and want to do, in my school or, like, the community that I’m around, it’s like you should know exactly what you want to do in college, and then you should pursue that and be successful.
Asli: I just wanted to add to what Sasha said. The college application process is scary for me because of the uncertainty. You really don’t know what’s going to happen after that application is sent.

Rita: Do you feel there is pressure not only to tell people where you want to go, but also the path you’re going to take in college?
Max:
When I say I don’t know what I want to do, I feel like people will judge me.

Rita: But it’s hard to know. Some people know at a young age, and some have no idea and want to see what’s out there.
Graicen:
I definitely feel the pressure of trying to put your best foot forward, especially to prestigious colleges. But you have your teachers, friends and college counselors there to support you.
Jack: It’s a big decision for an 18-year-old: “This is the path I’m going on for the rest of my life.” And there’s a lot of money at play.
Shahd: With the college applications as a whole, I fear comparing myself with other people. I want to go to this school and that school, and they’re prestigious, and what if they get in and I don’t? Are they better than me? I think that’s something a lot of people at my school think about.

Rita: While we’re talking about worrying if we’re good enough, do you feel your school community is accepting of people with different backgrounds, gender identities, religions and the like?
Jack:
I find at my school everyone is pretty accepting. I do ballet, and you don’t see many guys who dance, and my friends respect that. It may not be their thing, but they respect that it’s my thing. Nobody judges you.
Graicen: At AHA we promote diversity and embrace everyone’s different religions or ethnic cultures.

Rita: That’s excellent. Anyone else?
Matt:
I feel like my school is also accepting. We have a lot of kids from other states and transfer kids from other countries. They aren’t treated any differently than any other students there.

Rita: What kind of support do your schools provide if you’re struggling academically or with emotions, feeling depressed?
Ethan: At our school we have the Wellness Center, where kids can go if they’re stressed about tests or life in general. They can talk to someone there. The guidance counselors are readily available, and there’s help for specific areas of studies, the Math Center and the Writing Center. The school provides opportunities to make sure everyone is heard and is not super-stressed.

Rita: Do you mean your guidance counselors?
Ethan:
Well, not only the guidance counselors. I don’t know if they’re psychologists, but they’re there to counsel. There are two or three people in there available to talk. You can sign up for an appointment on a Google form.
Sasha: At my school the general consensus is there’s not enough done for mental health. We have one or two mental health days, where teachers aren’t supposed to assign graded assignments and they bring in comfort puppies. But a lot of students I’ve talked to don’t see this as solving the issues. The administration says there are guidance counselors to go to, but there’s only so many for so many students and that’s not the one-to-one attention that people need or don’t receive at home. So I think implementing programs like the Wellness Center is really great.

Rita: Do your peers relay this to the administration? Do you think you’re being heard?
Sasha:
Part of the problem is that students aren’t bringing that to administrators as much as they should. They’ll complain about it on the side or maybe to teachers. But ultimately that’s not going to have a successful outcome unless they’re communicating it. I do think there’s two sides to the problem.
Eleeza: Despite being very small, my school does a good job of supporting the stresses that come along with high school. We have this Cavo Strong program [Cavo is the school’s team name] and it’s implemented every two weeks. It’s a 40-minute period where each teacher is assigned a group of 10 students, and we talk and play games. That’s a good way to give us a break in the day, especially for those who are struggling with being stressed and overwhelmed with the workload.
Shahd: At my school this year we started the Drop Counseling program. During lunch, three times a week during lunch students can go to the counselor or a little office at any time and talk to someone about their struggle. One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of students don’t want to talk to people. Either they don’t know them that well or they don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

Rita: What do you mean, “what’s going to happen in the future?”
Shahd:
Some students might feel like they’re going to be judged for their issues.
Graicen: One thing that drew me to Holy Angels is Wellness Wednesdays. We have community time, an hour and ten minutes kids take to study or go to teachers for extra help. We have different activities offered by different teachers. There’s bracelet making or ping-pong. I usually go to the open studio one with my art teacher so I can practice oil painting or water coloring. This is just a time to take a step back and reset our minds.

 

DO KIDS FEEL SAFE?
Rita: What about safety? Do you feel safe? Do you worry about gun violence— or any violence?
Ethan:
I definitely feel safe in my school. There are at least three or four police officers, retired officers in the school. They’re present in all corners of the building so there’s always one walking around, or in the front or by entrances.

Rita: Are they armed?
Ethan:
Yes. I believe so.
Marisa: I feel like IHA [Immaculate Heart Academy] does a good job of making us feel safe. The doors have scan-and-access with our IDs, and after 8 a.m. they don’t open unless you buzz into the office. We also have police officers who walk around our school at random times of the day. They’re friendly and do a good job of making us feel we’re in a safe environment.
Sasha: Yeah, I think it was an issue. People were nervous about gun violence, and my school has risen to the occasion. We all wear student IDs on designated lanyards every day. At my school we also have retired officers and guards. But we decided they shouldn’t be armed, and I feel like that makes students feel safer when they’re not armed.
Kayla: My school is really safe. In the middle school I think all our security guards are retired police officers; I don’t know about the high school. Some of them are armed. That doesn’t bother me. I always feel safe in school.
Gabby: Our school does a good job. We do emergency drills at least once a month so we know what to do if there’s an emergency. And we have an officer who walks around and he’s also armed.

Rita: What’s involved with these drills?
Gabby:
Once a month, our teachers tell us where to go if there’s a lockdown, and for fire drills we have set exits depending on the classroom you’re in. Once a month, without the students knowing, they’ll come on the loud speaker and say, “O.K., we’re practicing our lockdown drill.”
Shahd: I do feel safe, but I wish they had more of the drills, especially the lockdown drills.

Rita: What about bullying? Does it happen at your school? And are there cliques?
Max:
At Mahwah everyone has their own friends but as a whole, we’re all very close and have each other’s back at the end of the day. I wouldn’t say we’re all friends, but we’re all respectful to each other.

Rita: Obviously people gravitate to some people more than others, that’s just human nature. I think you hit on a word that’s important, and that’s respect.
Eleeza:
Emerson helps foster that sense of community because our high school is a few hundred people. Not everyone is super-close friends, but we do a good job of uniting and coming together, especially when it involves the whole school—at sporting events, at pep rallies.
Jack: At River Dell, everyone has their own friend groups, not cliques but friend groups. Like Max said, everyone respects each other. If you saw someone in your grade outside of school, even if they’re not in your friend group, you’d definitely say hi.

Rita: We’ve read the sad stories about young people thinking about suicide. Comments?
Matt:
In the hallway at my school there’s the word “brotherhood” written so we’re seen as brothers since it’s an all-boys school. It’s very inclusive; I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone get bullied at my school.

AIMING FOR TOP SCHOLAR?
Rita: What about competition? Maybe your schools don’t do class rank, but are people vying to be valedictorian? Are you judged if you don’t want to go to a prestigious college? Are you vying for a school position?
Marisa:
Going to an all-girls school normally you would think there’s a lot of competition. But for three years at IHA we’ve grown so much closer that instead of seeing each other’s wins as a loss for ourselves, it’s a win for our school. It’s really empowering. We know not everyone is good at everything, but we do support each other and lift each other up.
Ethan: It’s like what Marisa said, but there’s also some competition. I think it depends kind of on who you’re surrounded by. One group may compete for a spot on the basketball team and another may be the president of the National Honor Society. But competition also brings out the best in people and that spurs accomplishment. There’s a good balance of both at Pascack Valley.
Jack: Unfortunately at River Dell we don’t do class rank. I wish we did because it would create a sense of healthy competition between students—pushing each other to be better academically. As far as colleges go, like Marisa said, it’s a win for everyone. Some people are applying to Ivies—they’re obviously doing well academically—but we’ve also had students who’ve gone to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], Cooper Union for art or engineering and a few students in the military and service academies.
Matt: Bergen Catholic is definitely a competitive environment for academics and athletics, but it’s more of a good thing because it motivates students to push each other. Even after a test kids will be comparing groups and stuff, but it’s more congratulating people. It’s not seen as a negative thing.
Shahd: We do do class rank and the higher you are, if you’re top 10, it’s more competitive because everyone wants a spot in the top three, especially valedictorian. But also, like Jack said, it’s a form of healthy competition because it’s motivation. We encourage each other to be the best we can be and we help each other out, so if someone is struggling with something, we help. It sort of creates a connection and brings us closer together.

SOCIAL MEDIA + VAPING
Rita: What about social media? What role does it play in your high school experience and among your peers?
Kayla:
Social media, at least in my school, is a really big deal. There was a video of a girl from a party. She had a little too much to drink. Somebody had their phone out and was videoing her, and it spread around the school like wildfire. I felt really bad for her. Social media at Bergenfield is a big factor and sometimes people post a lot, so it feels like everybody knows everything about everybody.

Rita: The way you’re describing it, it’s a bit of a negative.
Asli:
Social media really helps information spread, like Kayla said, like wildfire, But at my school it’s to promote community and inclusivity. We do Olympics, which is our version of Field Day, and social media helps us hype up the event and encourages everybody to participate.
Graicen: It’s more to spread school spirit. For us recently, the big thing is the Holy Angels TikTok page, where our teaches promote sustainable living, with recycling being important, and upcoming events, whether it’s an open house or Field Day.

Rita: Has anyone had an experience similar to what Kayla was describing, where at times it can be a negative?
Shahd:
It’s definitely a mix of what Kayla and Asli said. Social media can cause a lot of drama. Someone can post, like, “Hey, look what this person did!” But it also helps spread news. We have a student council Instagram page, and whenever they have pep rallies or Spirit Week they make a post about it and everybody reposts it on their stories to promote it and it helps build school spirit. It has its pros and cons.

Rita: I’m gratified to hear what you said about bullying and that you’re not experiencing it. What about these other issues—drugs, alcohol, cheating and gambling? I see smiles and hands going up.
Asli:
At my school, vaping is an incredibly big problem. We actually just implemented a new system called Smart Pass, where the students sign out and the teachers can track how long the students have been in the bathroom and how many are going at once. Back then it was cigarettes and now it’s vaping, and at my school weed is another problem. The bathroom is the place they all do it. For gambling, two weeks ago there were these boys who were running this gambling operation in the library [laughs]. It really takes a toll on the administration and teachers. We’re a small school but we also don’t have that many teachers, so it takes a while for the teachers to find out about these things. Social media is the place where our students group together and share our activities but the teachers aren’t aware. I think that lack of staff has to do with that, and also secrecy and privacy of all of it.

Rita: You would think with the changes in the marijuana laws that it would cut down on it, but it seems perhaps that’s not so.
Kayla:
We also implemented a system we call E Hall Pass, so we have to go on our phones and get our passes. But the teachers don’t really know how to use it, so everybody kind of bypasses it. We don’t have a gambling problem in our school that I know of, but vaping is a big problem and the drug use is, I want to say, a problem. I do think the use of drugs, weed and vaping is still a big problem in the schools. We have assemblies every so often where it’s like, “Hey guys, vaping’s bad!” but the kids are still going to do it anyway.
Eleeza: I agree that vaping is a big issue. We have this new system where you have to sign in to go to the bathroom so they can track how many people are there. There are vape detectors in the bathroom, but half the time there’s no teacher in the hallway running the system where you have to check in, and unfortunately it still happens a lot. Maybe the measures that were implemented weren’t as effective.
Gabby: Like Eleeza said, we have a system to scan into the bathroom. There is a teacher there so it tracks how many times and how long you were there for. Vaping is a big issue, but that helps whittle it down because the teacher is standing there. I think if you scanned in a very high numbers of times your parents can see it, so I think that helps. Shahd: Vaping is a big issue, and it honestly shocks me how bold people are, that they bring their pens to school and vape in the bathroom. A few weeks ago there was a group of girls in the bathroom, two of them had vapes with them and it shocked me how the teacher didn’t notice it at all because there was a lot of smoke in the bathroom—I won’t lie.

IS CHEATING ACCEPTED?
Rita: One word I mentioned that was a big issue with the students we spoke to last year is cheating.
Matt:
I feel like cheating was definitely a huge issue during the pandemic at my school. It was so easy to do. Once everyone started going back in person it wasn’t as much of an issue, but now with AI and ChatGPT, a lot of kids are using that to do their assignments for them. AI definitely can be used positively for education, but a lot of kids are using it to do their work for them instead.

Rita: I know certain districts were trying to block AI at school, and there are programs that pick up plagiarizing. Are your schools doing that? How are they trying to mitigate the AI issue?
Matt:
Some teachers have been using AI detectors online, but the issue is, a lot of the time they’ll falsely accuse kids of cheating when they weren’t. The teacher put in a zero because it detected it as AI even though it wasn’t. So that tech needs to be improved a lot before it’s more widely used.
Ethan: I remember in eighth grade before the pandemic a scandal in my school of kids sharing Google documents—one teacher uncovered the entire thing. The school shut down and then everyone forgot about it. But there’s always going to be cheating; the teachers are choosing their battles. They’re looking for cheating during the test, but people definitely use AI and ChatGPT. There’s definitely cheating going on.

Rita: Are you all basically concurring with what’s been said?
Jack:
I’m part of the Human Rights Club, and one of the big issues we talk about is ChatGPT and the use of AI. We’ve met with our principal and the board about how to implement AI in a positive sense. There’s never going to be a way around it. It’s out there, and the more we try to fight against it the worse it’ll be. We want it to be more of a tool that students can use rather than a weapon to cheat.
Sasha: At my school the student body does cheat a lot on tests, and I think it’s accepted. People are eager to get into prestigious colleges and Ivies, and a lot of people can’t risk a bad grade—or see it that way—so it’s accepted to cheat. Not among teachers. When people are caught it’s a big deal, but it does happen a lot.

Rita: So it’s accepted among the student body?
Sasha:
I know people help each other cheat sometimes. It’s not super common, but there are a few classes where people think the teachers are neglectful and don’t notice. So in those classes it’s known that everyone has an A+. Maybe they’ll cheat on tests or copy each other’s work, but it’s common.
Gabby: At Mahwah it’s hard to cheat because we use this program called “Turn It In.” You have to upload your essays and lab reports, and it tracks how similar they are to other people’s papers as well as AI-generated work, so it would come up as plagiarized. So the teachers definitely don’t tolerate it.
Marisa: IHA does the same thing. We have Turn It In as well, so any assignments run through that. Also, our teachers use the programs that sense the AI generators. It’s not that common because we know you’ll get caught if you do cheat.
Asli: At my school we use Google Classroom, and on Google Classroom the teachers can choose to see if any plagiarizing is going on. When you’re about to turn in an assignment it allows you to scan your work, and it’ll tell you if there are online matches so you yourself can check if your work is similar. At my school during Covid, because we were all virtual, it was easy to cheat and cheating helped a lot of people get into higher classes. But when we all came back in person it wasn’t the same education. They no longer could cheat so it hurt them. But it’s a big problem at my school.
Shahd: Yeah, they cheat. They use ChatGPT, but they also use paraphrasing tools like ToolBot. That’s a common website. They either pay someone to do their essay and Toolbot it completely or they’ll use ChatGPT and paraphrase it using a paraphrasing tool and submit it. Some of our teachers also have that tool where they can check for plagiarizing on Classroom. I like that for myself because—I don’t use it a lot because it doesn’t sound like me, but whenever I do I find it’s somewhat similar to a lot of websites. It could also have some cons because they could use ChatGPT to make an essay and edit it to sound like themselves.

JUST FOR FUN
Rita: What do you guys do for fun?
Max:
I definitely enjoy sports because it’s the two to three hours a day where I’m zoned out of life and just playing the sport I love for all my life. It’s nice to have, knowing that for two or three hours a day there’s not a care in the world and I’m just having fun.
Shahd: I agree about sports, but when I’m not doing sports I like extracurriculars. I’m in the Debate Club. That’s one of my favorite clubs. It’s a good way to forget about school, but you’re also learning because we’re debating current events. When I’m not in school, if I’m not on my phone on social media—it’s not what I’m proud about, but some people go on social media to forget about school— what I recently started doing, especially with the pandemic, I started getting into reading. A lot of students should start doing it because it’s a good way to forget about the world.
Sasha: A lot of people I’ve talked to, and myself, are very serious about getting a lot of sleep. People try to prioritize sleep and balance that with academics, which makes people feel good and relaxed.
Marisa: Sports, extracurricular activities—we have great clubs and emphasize service. We have a service club and do volunteer hours. It’s a great way to give back to our community and have fun with the girls and teachers without worrying about homework.
Matt: Sports and hanging out with friends are good ways to relieve stress from school. Playing video games can help take your mind off things.
Gabby: I do sports, and every weekend my friends and I try to hang out. We do a movie or we do food nights and bring something to try. We did a board night and brought different boards. Someone will bring sushi, someone will bring a dessert.
Eleeza: With my softball team we do a lot of dinners and we hang out outside of sports. We also do board night and different dinners—that happens a lot.
Ethan: I play sports too, but outside of school I play basketball with my friends. I also write for the school paper, so that’s a nice break. We all write a lot of essays, but that’s pretty monotone. I write all articles but mainly sports, so it’s nice to write about something you find interesting. When I’m writing a game story I can add a little creativity.
Kayla: I’m in the French Club; I enjoy learning French. Outside of extracurriculars I like to—this sounds nerdy, but I like to reread my notes and make sure I understand them. Or I go and organize things in my room to make sure everything is neat. Listening to music helps a lot too.
Asli: I feel like some people don’t look for the activities and don’t get involved. Sometimes we tend to overlook just how crucial they can be, especially ones that you love and fully invest yourself in. I love playing tennis, I love going on walks with my mom and spending time in nature—getting that Vitamin D really helps. My school has a Mock Trial team. Just finding activities that correlate with your passions is also important.
Jack: Sports are a big stressor for me, actually. I wrestle and play lacrosse, and I get stressed from my coaches. I don’t think it’s really relaxing. But I’m part of my volunteer fire department and I find that to be—it’s a high-stress environment, but being there is a lot better.
Rita: So getting called to a fire— that relaxes you?
Jack: ’Cause you’re with people you trust. I trust my life with these people. They know what they’re doing.
Graicen: I’m part of the school’s varsity volleyball team, and I sail outside of school. I find it very therapeutic to get exercise and be out on the water, something very relaxing about that. Being in nature really helps recenter you. Also I enjoy the other clubs at school. Next year I’ll be editor of the Blueprint literary magazine and the president of the Balkan Slavic Cultural Society. Getting together with peers and doing something I’m passionate about helps relax me. Outside of school I also enjoy going to the mall, especially Riverside, maybe grab an iced coffee and catch a movie. Being with friends.

Rita: Where do you sail?
Graicen:
I started sailing at my summer camp, and now I’m sailing with Roger Williams Camp this summer. Let’s hope it goes well [laughs].

(RHYMES WITH KNOWLEDGE)
Rita: Let’s talk about college. Do you worry about the cost, not getting into the school you hoped to get into? And what are you most looking forward to in terms of your college experience that you expect won’t be anything like high school?

Shahd: Comparing yourself with other students and not getting into the college you want to get into. There’s a lot of good colleges in New Jersey. I’m planning to stay in-state; the farthest I would probably go is New York City, because I’m not really big on dorming and neither are my parents, but I want to get into a good school. I feel like at my school they don’t teach us much about the application process. For juniors we used to have a class called Junior Seminar once a week. In the middle of the school year they shut it down because they didn’t think it was useful, but we were just starting to get into colleges. It really upset me that they took down the class because a bunch of upperclassmen thought it was perfect for applications and job résumés. I think schools should teach kids about college and things we may or may not expect. It’ll ease our worries as we become seniors and begin the application process.
Sasha: I feel very prepared for the college process. A lot of my teachers go over what we need to do, and we started preparing for common applications. But the most daunting thing is rejection. I think it’s very human to fear rejection, and I think that’s nerve-racking. But also in my school, a lot of my teachers in AP classes teach to the curriculum, but they say in college it won’t be as strict to the curriculum. So I’m really excited, I guess, for that exploration, and to go beyond what my teachers are confined to because of curriculum. It’s nerve-racking but exciting.
Graicen: I feel AHA has prepared me for the college app process. You can’t remove the stress from it; it’s like a package deal. But throughout the year we’ve had meetings with our OACC counselors—Office of Academics and College Counseling. And they’re there to help us navigate through the application process. But the biggest stressor of the process itself is feeling like all the hard work you put into your grades and extra-curriculars is enough to get into the school that you want. Like Sasha said, rejection is a hard thing. But it can help you grow, and in the end you’re going to go where you’re meant to be. I think the objective is to find the college that is the best fit for you and not the other way around.

Rita: That’s a good point. Are you guys going to be heartbroken if you don’t get into a particular school? Have you already made decisions about where you really want to go?
Ethan:
I completely agree with Graicen, There are schools I like more than others, but I know it’s what you make of the school. It’s what you do at the school that will determine if it’s right for you.
Marisa: At IHA, we have a good college counseling program. For me personally, the process has been different, because I wanted to get recruited to play sports. So I started June 15 of my sophomore year, and I toured schools all summer and my counselor was emailing me back and forth throughout the summer making sure I had all the requirements—which is not a part of her job at all, and she took the time out to help me and have my college résumé ready before I was even a junior. And then I was able to commit in November, so it all fell into place.

Rita: So you already know where you’re going to be?
Marisa:
Yes, I’m playing Division 1 golf at Quinnipiac, so I’m pretty excited. [Laughs, everyone claps.]

Rita: Congratulations! So what are you excited about that goes beyond your experience in high school?
Marisa:
Ever since I started playing golf my dream was to play in college and seeing the years of hard work paying off. I think just being on the team will be really rewarding and fulfilling. Also, it has one of the best programs for the major I want to be in, so I’m excited to do all of that and the campus is beautiful and I’m just excited, not to be away from home [laughs] but to experience new things and new people but not be super far away.
Eleeza: It’s a combination of stress and excitement. I feel like my school doesn’t do that much of a great job preparing me for college. From hearing from seniors’ experience they were kind of on their own, and it stresses me out knowing I’ll be on my own too, figuring it out with my parents instead of my school. But once the stressful part is over and I’m committed, I’m excited to go to college.
Jack: As you said, I’m dead set on a school, so it would be disappointing if I don’t get in. But as far as college goes, I’ve always been very independent. A lot of the schools I’m looking at are in cities, so just having more independence and exploring a different place is what I’m excited for. The majority of the schools I’m looking for are in the Northeast, but most of them are out of New Jersey.
Kayla: I think Bergenfield does a pretty good job with the college process. I could probably go to my guidance counselor more often than I do to get help with it. But every year they have a mandatory meeting with your counselor to discuss your schedule next year, and when I had mine we discussed a lot about college. We got this little piece of paper—they called it a brag sheet— with everything you’ve ever gotten or won, leadership positions or sports you’ve played. She was explaining how that looks good for college.

Rita: Are you zeroed in on where you want to go and what you want to do?
Max:
Obviously our country is huge and there’s so many options, but I’m actually only applying to two schools. And it’s scary, but I want to major in aviation, and only a select few schools have it; there’s only 20 in the whole country, and I’m not allowed to go so far.

Rita: Aviation as in becoming a flier?
Max:
Yeah, a pilot.

Rita: What about joining the military?
Max:
I was not allowed. [Laughs.] So Kent State in Ohio, they have their own airport on campus. And certain hours a day you go out and fly with your teacher.
Graicen: I’m looking to major in biology or environmental science, a combination of both maybe, and probably minor in studio art. But I’m looking at colleges along the Northeast, maybe some by water if I get recruited for sailing. That will help with the environmental science side. But somewhere not in New Jersey but local to the Northeast.

Rita: You all sound very focused and have some exciting plans. Any closing comments?
Shahd:
Just for everyone to do their best. Obviously, applying is stressful, but once you hit that final “submit” button, whatever happens happens. Just be proud of yourself for making it this far.

Rita: Exactly. Someone mentioned earlier ending up at the place where you’re meant to be. Focus on making the best of it and getting the most out of wherever you end up. You’re all going to do great. Thanks so much for joining us.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Haley Longman and Darius Amos.

 

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