Have you ever seen a tie dye shirt? How the colors all blend together and make a pattern that is hard for the eye to focus on. It’s wild and crazy and a mix of many things all in one area. That is basically what the mind of a senior in high school looks like. There are so many thoughts and stresses swimming around in our heads and it’s hard to focus on just one thing.

   It might be a simple question: what have you been doing with your life? Or how are you doing? but to a senior in high school it might feel like the most daunting question imaginable. In a few short months, it feels like my life has been completely churned up in a washing machine. The word future basically makes me want to go hide under my covers like I did when I was young during a thunderstorm. That same feeling a thunderstorm gives a young child, pounding heart, racing mind, fear of the unknown, comes racing back into your life when planning for the future and breaking free comes up in conversation. On top of that, social, family, financial and educational parts of a senior’s puzzle are changing and morphing.

   I am a 17-year-old senior in high school sitting down writing this column and at this very moment I feel like I’m at a crossroads. I can either go down one way, which leads to college and hopefully success in my dream career field. Or I can go down the other path that leads to the unknown. Right now I, and most of my classmates, are shaking in our boots trying to decide what to do with our lives “when we grow up”.

   The first obvious pressure placed upon a senior in high school is what to do with their future. When I was growing up, I just thought college was the only place to go after high school, but I have learned that there are many choices other than college out there. But college does seem to be the general path that most high school graduates follow. College can be a place where one can expand their knowledge in the field they want to go into and a place where they can grow up and become functioning adults in society.

   At this moment in time, seniors are going through a very daunting process of applying to colleges. There is immense pressure on students to present themselves in almost a fake way to the colleges so they have a good shot at getting in. They have to fit a certain standard and be something that the college wants. It’s a big game. Some students have been known to embellish their resume and stories in their admissions essays to make themselves come across better to the schools they are applying to. It’s a dance that everyone has to participate in and if you make the wrong move you get your toes crunched by your partner.

   Personally, since I seriously started the college search with my parents about a year ago, I have changed my mind left and right. My mind changes day to day. I want to go to college. I don’t want to go to college. I want a big college. I want a small college. I want to go to New York City. I want to go to Boston. I want to sing. I want to act.

   Basically the big thing that I’ve had trouble with is deciding where to apply and how to make myself look as polished as possible before I send in the application. The process freaks me out, so I try to back out of it by saying I don’t want to do it right now. I’m not ready. In reality, I am mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially prepared for the college scene.

   I’ve been ready for this moment forever because I’m tired of high school. But when the actual process of applying and trying to fit a standard and getting accepted or rejected came along, I buckled. I felt like I couldn’t pass the test, I couldn’t play the game everyone else was playing. I felt I wasn’t ready. My mind has slowly changed back and I have decided to charge full speed ahead in the college application process. But along the way I have found many other options for to consider instead of college. Travel and time off is a big option other than college. Students should get some time off before they plunge right into another 4 or more years of school following graduation.

   I whole heartedly believe that 17,18, 19 year old young adults should take time off to cleanse their minds and learn who they really are before they enter into college. Traveling can be an eye opening experience. The information presented in a textbook is all well and good, but when a person experiences something first hand through travel and exploration it makes it more interesting and exciting to learn. If a person wants to learn how to speak Spanish it would be in their best interest to take an intense trip to a Spanish-speaking nation and learn the language there, rather than in a textbook.

   There are many people that I go to school with who are planning on going right into the work force once they exit high school. There is nothing wrong with that choice. College and a higher education isn’t for everyone. Some of my friends know exactly what they want to do and have been working on it for years, like farming, hairdressing, or lawn care, and they don’t need to go to college to learn about it. They’ll plunge right into the work force. I want to be an actress and a lot of people just jump right into New York City or Hollywood right out of high school to get started right away on their career. I personally believe the actor that is more educated and has a greater knowledge of theater and the practice of theater can get better parts and have a better career. But the young girl that takes off for New York to dance or act or sing might have a shot at it and it’s just a different approach.

   Recently the issue of the military has been thrown in the faces of students in our school. An army recruit staff sergeant made a few stops in our school over the past month and has tried to hook confused, insecure and troubled teens to join the army. I personally think it’s disgusting how they come into schools and scan and pick out the troubled burn outs, kids who have no where else to turn and get them to grab a gun and jump on the front lines because they have nothing to lose. I voiced my opinion to the recruiter and how I thought he should set up a table and let people come to him because it was malicious the way he was enticing and grabbing people within our school. Needless to say, this is a path that many seniors in high school chose to embark upon once they get out of high school. They feel it is their duty to honor and serve their country and learn some skills to shape their lives before they are turned loose again into society.

   On top of deciding our future, seniors have a big social scene that they never had before. Most of the seniors at my high school drive and it provides immense freedom and mobility to be able to be more social. Since I’ve had my license I have done a lot more things with my friends. I am able to transport myself somewhere and it makes it easier to plan fun activities to do and to hang out with your friends. Having a car and a license gives one a sense of freedom and a new found strength that erupts the second that plastic card is placed in your hand. It might seem like I have all the freedom to do whatever I want when I am driving in my car, but I realize my parents still have me in a strong hold and can take away that freedom just as easily as it came.

   The social scene with friends changes like a chameleon by the time a student reaches their senior year. Groups and cliques basically become solidified and people hang out a lot more because of cars and money from work. Friends become a lot closer because they are experimenting with big life altering situations and more dramatic issues than when we were in 8th grade. Friends need to rely on each other more for advice and to talk to once they become less dependent on their parents. Social groups and friends become the pillar and corner stone in a senior’s life.

   Dating and relationships become more intense, and real, because of cars, sex, big decisions and the ability to actually have a conversation and be young adults. Relationships and “going out” in middle school and even early high school seem superfluous compared to romances in junior and senior year. Relationships become more consuming. The people involved in the relationships are going through a lot at in this stage in their lives and use their boyfriend or girlfriend as a crutch to help get through it.

   Once the issue of alcohol, drugs, sex and mobility get involved in relationships they become more complicated. Dating is basically the process in which we all go through many times in search of the perfect mate. In 8th grade we weren’t looking for a mate, and even now, that might seem crazy. But it’s more real at this age. There are people that get married out of high school. There are people that meet and date in college and get married. It’s absolutely possible that the person you are dating in high school could end up being your husband or wife in 10 years, and that makes it a heck of a lot more serious than it was in middle school. When sex comes into the equation it makes relationships special and serious. Virginity is a sacred thing that each one of us has, or have had, at one point in our lives. It’s important to keep it sacred.

   This is just a snippet into the mind of a senior in high school on the edge of becoming an adult. There are so many problems and issues that are going through my head right now that I have to continue this column in the next edition of the Observer. Stay tuned for the trials and tribulations of a stressed out senior in high school. By next month I’ll either be continuing on the college path or I’ll be a fat desperate housewife, or on a plane to India.

(Chelsea Murray is 17 years old and a senior at Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, CT)