As a parting gift to my senior high school students (and, more so, a gift to themselves), I ask them to write a LOVE LETTER TO YOURSELF which I store for four years and mail to them upon their intended graduation from college.
In order for the letters to have some meaning, particularly for those students who don’t know what to write, I provide them with some direction of a reflective nature and let them go from there.
Reflect on who you were when you entered the high school as a freshman. What were your hopes and fears? How did the high school appear when you first entered it? With whom were your friends? What were some of the things you did outside of school for fun? What were your goals for the next four years?
Reflect on your growth over the last four years. In what ways did you change? What were some of your crystallizing and paralyzing experiences during the past four years? How did you involve yourself in the HS community? How have your friendships changed? Who have been some of your mentors and how have they affected your HS experience? What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Project where you think you will be four years from now. What accomplishments will you have made? Will you be graduating, continuing your education or working? Who will you have kept in touch with from HS? What goals will you be making in four years for your future/career?
While some students write the bare minimum, most expand upon what I’ve prompted them to write. I’ve seen some who ask their friends to write notes to them which they include in their envelopes. Some include a graffiti’d rendition of their four-year experience. Some are very decisive about how they want their signature to look in order to see if it changes four years from now. No matter what personal touches they decide to add, they are uniquely their own.
Each May, I pull out the bulking envelope of 40-80(ish) self-addressed, stamped envelopes including their letters written four years earlier. Although it takes me a few weeks, I write little “love” notes to each of them who had kept their envelopes open (as I encourage during the writing process). Some notes recall an outstanding memory I have of them, some best wishes for their futures, some more detailed, as it depends upon our connection when they were in high school. No matter the words, the message is the same, I care about them and their development as people, the kind of caring that extends beyond their short time with me in the classroom.
With eager anticipation, I take one envelope at a time (never reading their letters, as promised, because I want them to write honest and personal), reflecting over our time together. It’s something that is a gift to me, too, because it reminds me the purpose of my job beyond the doldrums that come at the end of a long year, trudging through the last months of school with senioritis at an all-time high, on the students’ part, and exhaustion at combating it, on my own. The purpose is to validate how far they’ve come and how much they’ve grown since our time together; further, it’s a gesture, on my part, to foster the love of learning in each and every day, and beyond their short time with me.
Most students, many of whom contact me after receiving their letters in the mail, had forgotten they’d even written them, so this truly comes as a surprise. Here are some of the responses I’ve received after mailing them out in May:
Love letters to yourself aren’t exclusive to the classroom. In fact, the night before our wedding, my husband and I wrote letters to each other and opened them on our first anniversary. It was neat to see what we’d been thinking on the cusp of a day that would change our lives forever. Also, I have written letters to each of my children during their high school years that I give to them when they graduate. As any parent of a teenager knows, there are some trying times during those high school years, but letter writing to your children helps put it all in perspective. Beyond the nostalgia, it’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and that we do surprise ourselves even when we don’t expect to.