May 6, 2021 — On a recent spring evening, Religious Studies teachers Lori Veilleux and Pete Masteller stood outside the dining hall with piles of well-worn composition notebooks and handfuls of sealed envelopes, greeting groups of seniors as they approached. One girl said, “I’m nervous.” Veilleux responded, “This is going to be great!” and handed her a journal with her name scrawled on the front.
Three years ago, Veilleux and Masteller were among the English and Religious Studies faculty members who taught ninth grade Humanities, better known as HUM 1, to the Class of 2021. Traditionally, one of the final assignments is for students to imagine themselves as seniors about to graduate, and to write a letter to their future selves. Some students do this in their journals; others write actual letters. Veilleux and Masteller and other HUM 1 teachers collect the letters and journals and stow them away. Now, with graduation fast approaching, they handed these editorial time capsules back to the students who wrote them as ninth graders.
The students clustered in small groups, at first speculating about what they wrote. “I'm pretty sure I asked myself if I have a boyfriend,” said Emma Chaffee ’21. “And I probably asked myself if I'm going to Williams because that was my dream school freshman year. But I didn't even apply there! I evolved.”
Then came the serious contemplation. HUM 1, after all, asks students to contemplate four “essential questions”: Who am I? What is my place? What does it mean to be human? How, then, shall I live? Reading from her journal, Ines Knirsch ’21 said that those questions “have gained so much more meaning that it can make me a little stressed sometimes … I'm not sure that as a senior I'll have the answers to the questions, but I hope there's some improvement.” Kaitlyn Lu ’21 chimed in with one of the passages she’d written: “I am proud of the connections I made with classmates and teachers. I am proud of my mental growth. At the time you're reading this, look at yourself — a high school graduate. I can't wait to see what life has in store for you.”
Veilleux circulated among the students, checking in. “This is so bittersweet,” she said. “It’s great to see these students grow up over the years, and then to circle back through their human experience. I hope this is meaningful for them.”
That seemed to be the case for Taylor Hough ’21, who nodded as she read through her journal. “I'm saying to myself, ‘Don’t focus too much on the future. Where are you about what’s happening right now?’” Hough paused. “This is actually the kind of thing I still need to be thinking about.”
As they shared moments of reflection, the seniors were both nostalgic and pragmatic. “It's so hard to read my writing,” noted Celia Kirk ’21. Still, she was able to make out a statement that read, “I really enjoyed our class discussions because I learned to talk a little less and listen to the point of view of other people.”
Kirk wasn’t the only one struggling with their ninth-grade penmanship. “There’s a sentence I wrote that says, ‘I know that everything will turn out to be … something,’” Chun-Wen Ko ’21 said. “But I can't decipher if the last word is ‘fine’ or ‘fire.’”