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Three '99 Seniors' Diaries

Papya Ray   Lee High School
Travis Reilly  Wootton High School (Rockville)
Venitra Taylor Woodson High School

1999 The Washington Post Company

Surviving Senior Year: In Their Own Words

Travis Reilly
Travis Reilly of Rockville's Wootton High School heads to graduation exercizes at Constitution Hall. (Lois Raimondo - The Washington Post)

 

Senior Year ... Almost nothing else matches it in hopes and dreams and occasional youthful angst. This year, at the request of The Washington Post, three area seniors kept journals chronicling their last year in high school.

Their candid accounts, which have been edited for space and clarity, reflect the frenetic activities and social ups and downs of high school, the sometimes crushing pressures to achieve and the struggles to make choices they believe will affect the rest of their lives.


Papya Ray


Papya Ray
Papya Ray, a student at Lee High School in Springfield, spreads her college application papers on her bedroom floor. (Joel Richardson — The Washington Post)

Papya, 17, is a senior at Lee High School in Springfield, where more than 380 students will graduate June 22. Papya, whose parents are from India, and has an older brother who recently graduated from college, has lived in Northern Virginia since she was 2. Her mother, a homemaker, became a U.S. citizen this year. Her father, an engineer, often travels for business. She is editor-in-chief of her student newspaper, volunteers after school at a hospital and plans to attend the University of Virginia this fall, majoring in pre-med.


 

 

Travis Reilly


 

Travis Reilly
Travis Reilly at Rockville's Wootton High School. (Juana Arias – The Washington Post)

 

Travis, 18, was a senior at Wootton High School in Rockville, where about 390 students graduated June 10. He moved to Gaithersburg from Florida last fall after his mother took a job in the District as director of a national trade association. Travis, an only child, was an editor at the school paper and will attend the University of Colorado at Boulder this fall, where he plans to major in communications.

Venitra Taylor


Venitra Taylor
Venitra Taylor at Woodson High School in the District. (Tom Allen — The Post)

 

Venitra, 17, was a senior at Woodson High School in the District, where about 280 seniors graduated June 14. She is a D.C. native and has an older sister who attends college in California. Venitra's mother is a legal secretary, and her stepfather is a D.C. schools bus driver. Venitra, co-editor of her school paper, worked after school as a cashier. She will attend Bowie State College this fall and plans to major in journalism.

 

Seniors' Diary

'Whoever Said Senior Year Is the Best Was Lying'

 

Eric Salley, left, and Venitra Taylor, right, march in place during band practice at the District's Woodson High School. (Tim Sloan — The Washington Post)

 

SEPTEMBER


 

Venitra: First day of school. For some reason I am not all that excited to go to school today. Usually I go to bed early so that I can get to school early, but not this year. I am wearing my Parasuco jeans, a V-neck T-shirt, and my black Princess Reeboks. My hair is done and I feel as though I look like a senior.

Venitra: I need a car. My day was so busy today. Everywhere I went, I took the subway. I got my hair done, picked up my class ring, shopped for a baby shower gift and then went to the shower. I did all of this on the subway and bus.

 

OCTOBER


 

Papya: Homecoming. I hate this day. I don't have a date. I tell myself that I don't care, but that is not true. I do care. I wish I would be the person who got the flowers and candy on homecoming. But it has never happened to me, and probably never will.

Travis: Only after leaving Florida this past summer, can I appreciate the many hardships a student can face when placed in an alien environment. I'm busy searching for a suitable college and trying to improve my grades and my SAT scores. The decisions I will have to make in the next couple of months will most likely be the basic blueprint for the rest of my life. It is no longer a question of where I want to go to college, but what places might accept me and which ones I can afford.

Venitra: My physics class is kicking my bootie. I don't understand anything he is talking about! My mother told me not to take physics, but I didn't listen. Noooooo, I thought I could handle it.

Papya: I just spent four hours filling out college applications. It was so painful. I started with the University of North Carolina. I sat down at the computer and stared at the screen. 'You are on page one of 10,' it read. I felt like crying. I really don't have the time to fill out the applications with all my other activities.

I go to school at 7 a.m. and get home at about 6 p.m. The moment I step in the door, my mother almost always has errands for me to run. I understand that I have to help her out with my father being away so much. But sometimes I get annoyed. I don't know who said senior year is fun. But whoever said it was a blatant liar.

Travis: At this point, my first-choice college is Northwestern University. But for me to be admitted is highly unlikely since it has one of the best journalism schools in the country and can be very selective. I took my SATs this month for the second time and did better than I expected, improving my combined score by 40 points.

Homecoming was last weekend. Wootton lost the football game (not exactly unusual). The Homecoming dance was on Saturday, and though I'm not much of a dancer, the whole night was heavenly. Dressing in formal attire and having an exquisite meal with such a beautiful date and then going to the dance with her at my side was exactly what I needed.

Papya: At times I feel like I'm on top of the world. Everything, academics, personal and family situations are going my way. Then, about two seconds after that rush, I realize that so much of what I want is missing. I don't see my dad because of his job. I know he's working to save up for my education, but he's missed most of my life because of it. My mom's all I really have. I don't appreciate her as much as I should. She calls me every day at school when I stay late. She literally worries when I cross the street.

My social life is nonexistent. I seldom go out. I'm not like a normal teenager. Normal teenagers date, go clubbing, get drunk. Guys rarely like girls like me. I'm aggressive and what some guys might think is "too brainy." I refuse to act like an idiot to make a guy like me. If they don't like me for who I am, that's their problem. I wish I believed that wholeheartedly though.

Venitra: We will be starting practice soon for [the local TV show] "It's Academic." I don't know if I will be able to do it, with the band, the school newspaper, ROTC and my classes. I don't know if I can handle another extracurricular activity.

Papya: My classes have been getting harder. Now I truly understand why they are called "Advanced Placement" classes. Finally, after two weeks of no play, I had the time to relax. [I went with my parents to] Tysons Corner. As quickly as I walked into Banana Republic, I walked out. The prices were ludicrous. My mother thought it was pointless to spend that much money on clothing. She insisted that all the clothing was ordinary. I hated the fact she was right. I hated the fact she was telling me I shouldn't buy anything. I was mad. It wasn't my parents' fault, but I blamed it on them. We came home. I was silent. "The silent treatment." I need to grow up.

Venitra: We blew all the bands at Delaware State out today, including Delaware State's band. We have improved sooooooooo much from last year. I think we can successfully become the best band in the area very soon. I still can't believe we are better than Delaware's band, though. I guess having school spirit counts for a lot. God is on the band's side. (And we won $1,000.)

Papya: About an hour ago, one of my classmates, Jonathan Lindsey, died. I didn't even know him. Before today, he was just another face in the hall. Now he's a face I'll never see again. He was crossing Franconia Road when a speeding car hit him. He was just crossing the street. It could have been anyone. It could have been me. He was like every senior. He probably was worried about getting into college. He probably was anxious to graduate. It was supposed to be the best year of his life. Instead it was the last year. I can't imagine what his family must feel like. I feel petty that I take things for granted.

 

NOVEMBER


 

Travis: Things have begun to slow down a little. The end of the first marking period was today. My report card will most likely be an improvement. I still have many college application essays to write, lengthy projects to complete, and literature to read, but a small amount of free time and a mutated version of what might indeed be a social life has begun to emerge. Last weekend, my mom and I decided to make my first college visit of the school year. We drove to Michigan. Michigan State University seemed to have a fairly decent campus as well as a somewhat recognized communications program. Only seven months and counting until graduation.

Papya: The Georgetown application is gone. WOOHOO! I hate filling out these applications. My parents have resorted to bribery to get me to finish them. We were walking through Contempo Casuals and I saw this outfit that I loved. I asked my mom when she would buy it for me. I was just joking around. She replied, "When you finish two more applications." I was shocked because she was serious. I don't mind that deal. But it's pathetic that clothes are my motivation to finish college applications--applications that will determine the next part of my life. It feels like senior year has been going on for eternity. . . . I wonder when senior skip day is?

Venitra: My grades are seriously going down. I just can't seem to live up to my potential. People are just expecting too much from me right now. I can't feel my brain.

Papya: Most people think I am crazy for commuting to another school to take a class. I didn't want to drop it though. I would have either had to give up this class, calculus, or drop advanced placement government because it didn't fit in my schedule. I wasn't willing to drop either. I have a 4.07 for the quarter, which isn't that bad. It's just that Georgetown is so competitive that I am worried. I hope I'll get in. I don't know what I'll do if I don't. Everyone is expecting me to get in. Most importantly, I am expecting me to get in.

Venitra: The whole high school experience is becoming very old. Whoever said senior year is the best was lying. I don't seem to be able to find the humor. Are teachers paid to be annoying or is that just an extra plus for students? I saw my boyfriend today. We watched a video.

Papya: I should be happy. I got a 4.07 this quarter. But my parents don't care. They expect grades like that from me. It's almost like they don't remember what it was like being a teenager. They don't remember wanting a social life. I had my Georgetown alumni interview on Sunday. While I think it went well, I don't really know what to think about it. I mean how could a person get to know someone in two hours?

Venitra: Well today is the day that we go on "It's Academic." I am hoping that we don't lose too miserably. We are not prepared. I wonder how my other team members are doing right now. Jessica's probably mad. Virginia's probably sad. Well I feel mad and sad.

Papya: Why is it that I always feel like crying? I hate crying. It makes me feel so "girly." It feels like I can't control my feelings anymore. Right now I am listening to "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan.

She is singing about being in the arms of the angel and finding some comfort there. To sing what you feel, what a beautiful way to communicate. Unfortunately I can't sing. I can't even talk. I can only write.

Venitra: I feel like I am doing much better in physics. Everything is starting to come together. I am also enjoying my humanities class. It's kind of like AP English. We are reading and writing a lot. Those are two of my favorite things.

We came in third place in "It's Academic." That's okay. At least we got up there and tried our best. That's what it's all about.

Papya: It's 11 p.m., and I still haven't finished all my work. On Saturday I wrote a college essay about myself. I thought it was good. My mom thought it was good. I gave it to one of my friends who thought it basically sucked. It's funny how one word of criticism could crush many words of praise. Maybe I care too much about what other people think. But it's almost like life is based on what people think.

Venitra: My mother got married to Will today. I am very happy for them. I took pictures at the wedding. They got married at a justice of the peace. My Uncle John was there. My mother's two friends, Ms. Mildred and Ms. Josephine, were also there. Afterward Ms. Josephine took us out to eat at BET SoundStage. That was cool.

Papya: My father won't be with us on Thanksgiving. He's in another country, working to save for my tuition. I won't see him until I graduate. The next time he comes, I'll be leaving for good. I mean let's face it. When you get into college, you will never be "at home" for longer than a month ever again.

Venitra: I need to send off my college applications for school. I should have turned them in earlier. I am procrastinating because I don't know if I will get into the colleges that I want. My top four choices are Bowie, Morgan, Norfolk and Hampton. I hope I get into at least one of them.

Papya: For the past couple of nights I've been having nightmares about Georgetown. The first one was so strange. I went to a football game with my AP chemistry teacher (which was weird enough), and we got mugged in the parking lot. Maybe it shows my apprehension about Georgetown. The other nightmares have been about opening THE LETTER, the one that determines the rest of my life. My mom keeps coming in the room, screaming and nagging about applications. Oh, shut up. Like she went through this. AH! I'm listening to Christmas music in the background along with my mom's nagging.

 

DECEMBER


 

Travis: The last couple of weeks have been incredibly exciting. During Thanksgiving break, I was able to go back to Florida. I was overjoyed to finally see the family and friends I had left about four months ago (although it seemed it had been so much longer).

Four months was the longest I had ever gone without seeing my dad since the day I was born. I stayed for a couple days with him in Daytona Beach, and we drove down to South Florida to visit the rest of my family on Thanksgiving Day. My only regret was leaving my mother home alone, although she celebrated Thanksgiving with the neighbors.

Venitra: The deadline for the first payment for the class trip is coming up. I don't know if I want to go or not. We are supposed to be going to Florida to visit Disney World and some of the other resorts, but it's kind of expensive. Well for my pocket anyway. Since I have a job my mom wants me to pay half. I don't have any money.

Papya: I did not get into Georgetown. What I dreaded for months finally came true this afternoon, when I got the "defer" letter. I wasn't expecting it. I have a 3.9, I took the hardest classes possible, my activities are amazing, I had excellent recommendations, and my SAT was a 1370. But I got deferred.

Everyone told me that it is "Georgetown's loss." But is it? I don't know what to think right now. I feel like crying, for obvious reasons. I feel angry. I know a girl who got in last year with a 3.8 and a 1260. Her activities were like mine. Why did she get in? I feel like the scum of the earth right now. Am I going to ever get accepted to a college? It's pathetic to think that a thin piece of paper has made me feel so awful.

Travis: A few days ago, my mom left on a business trip. It's strange staying in the house by myself for almost a week. Responsibility, however, is not as novel as I once thought it sounded. I have thus far resisted the urge to throw a party and have also managed to wake myself up in time for school each morning. Today is my mom's birthday. This was the first time she and I were not together for Thanksgiving or her birthday, but I guess it is all a part of growing up.

Venitra: I am so tired. I stayed up late last night studying for a physics exam. But it was worth it because I got a 95. I guess hard work really does pay off. It felt so good to receive my paper with my good grade on it. I hope I keep making 95s and 100s in there.

Papya: I am in my room right now surrounded by applications. It's a nice room, but I can't tell whether it belongs to a child, a teenager or a "young adult." At this point I think it belongs to all three. I don't want to get rid of my stuffed animals--it's almost like getting rid of my childhood. The posters of Pete Sampras, Third Eye Blind and Dave Matthews show that it is a teenage girl who lives here. And I guess this laptop and these applications show that a young adult lives here.

Venitra: Thank God it's Friday. I can't wait until Christmas break. I am dog tired. Although studying is a good thing, it takes a lot out of you. I need to start getting more sleep. Starting tonight. At 9 p.m. I am going to sleep.

Venitra: I'm not going to be able to take my U.S. government test before the break. I am not feeling well. I don't think that I am going to go to school tomorrow. Besides, I haven't studied for the exam anyway. I guess I am saved by a cold.

Venitra: My friend Chanel had her New Year's party today. I took Brian with me so we could ring in the New Year. Almost the whole time, he hung out with Chanel's brother, but that was okay because I hung out with Chanel. At the beginning, the night wasn't seeming too promising, but by the end it got a whole lot better. Me and Brian hung out and rang in the New Year together.

 

'I'm Still Trying to Decide What to Do With My Life'

JANUARY


Travis Reilly
Travis Reilly, right, of Rockville's Wootton High, works on the student paper with Alana Cohen and Jeff Norkin. (Juana Arias - The Washington Post)

 

Travis: Winter break is almost over. I had a quiet Christmas at home, just me and my mother. We had a nice dinner, exchanged gifts, decorated a tree. One of my friends from Florida came to visit me after Christmas. It was his first time visiting the Washington area, so we went to all the famous monuments and museums.

The remainder of my break was wasted on sleeping late, playing basketball and finishing up all my college applications. I have begun to reevaluate many of my choices. With a modest 2.8 GPA and a SAT score of 1300, I am quickly realizing most of my college wishes are not only unlikely but impossible. Northwestern seems much like a pipe dream – I will not even be applying – and even most of the universities that I will be applying to seem fairly high above my academic level. The schools I will be applying to include Michigan State University, New York University, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Florida and University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Venitra: It is the first day back at school. I am so happy. We are getting closer and closer to graduation. I cannot wait to get out of this school. I like it, but this year I am kind of bored. I am so tired. I have been very tired for a while. I went to band practice today. Concert band is cool. I enjoyed playing the concert band music. I also love marching band. I can't wait until marching band season starts.

rayart.jpg (9717 bytes)
Papya Ray, of Springfield's Lee High, gets a hug from mom Mamata Ray. Dad Amal is in rear. (Bill O'Leary - The Washington Post)

 

Papya: I'll never forget the way she looked. She had on an emerald green outfit made of velvet. Her eyes were sparkling, and she had a big smile. She looked radiant. "Come on, we better get going! I don't want to be late!" my mother said. Today was her big day. Today she would become an American citizen. "Raise the right hand, Ma," I laughed. Last time, when she took her citizenship test, she raised the wrong hand because she was so nervous. I kissed her and gave her a long, tight hug. Then we walked into the auditorium together.

The speaker started the ceremony by stating the list of countries that were represented in the room. "Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, Ecuador, Ethiopia, France, Germany, India," and as he said the word India, chills went up my spine. It was almost like he had said my mother's name. She has lived here for the past 22 years. She has been there for us when we had the chicken pox and she will be cheering me on when I graduate this June. Coming to America let her fulfill the dream of giving her children the best education. All I could think about was how proud I was of her. As we clapped, 150 people became a permanent part of America. One of them, the most special one, was my mother.

Travis: My last year of school is now almost halfway finished. I am one step closer to graduating. Today was also the beginning of my semester exams. I'm not sure how important these grades really are, however, because most colleges will only be looking at my first three years of high school. I'm not doing anything exciting this weekend except finishing up some of my college applications. I'm still trying to decide what to do with my life. At this point I'm pretty sure I will be majoring in journalism, but many doubts are quickly beginning to creep into my mind. I suppose I can change my major in college.

I will probably end up at the University of Colorado or Florida. Living in Florida most of my life, I've had numerous chances to visit the University of Florida. I've decided not to visit Colorado or NYU unless I get accepted.

 

FEBRUARY


 

Venitra: It's finally February, the beginning of Black History Month. The band is still in marching season. We were supposed to get some new uniforms this year, but I haven't heard anything so far. We really do need some.

Travis: I have sent off all my applications. They should begin notifying me by the end of the month. A couple of days ago, I had to stay at school until 10:00 p.m. finishing up the newspaper. Although it is a tedious task to stay and work at school until late at night every month, working with the newspaper is fun. I'm just doing the regular senior things, staying out late at night, spending lots of money on movies and CDs, neglecting my homework. Although thinking about the future is stressful, the final year in high school can also be very laid-back at times. Teachers usually don't assign too much homework. No longer do I have to tell my mother every single thing I am doing when I go out. She realizes that I am 18, legally an adult. Students who have worked diligently for the better part of three and a half years deserve a break in the second semester of their senior year.

Venitra: It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to wear this morning. There are these shoes that I want to get, but I don't have any money. Oh well. I can't wait until it gets warm. This weather is killing me. I hope Brian can get a loan so he can continue to go to school.

Papya: Even though I feel like I'm in a constant whirlwind of change, I think I finally feel comfortable with myself. But, of course, when it comes to me, that could change tomorrow. The friends I thought were my "blood friends" have been drifting away, and people who I never thought would be my friends are like my siblings. I know change is good – but it doesn't mean that it is always pleasant.

Venitra: I sent off my college applications today. My top choices are Bowie State and Morgan State. I only applied to black colleges because I feel that I can flourish and grow more in that environment. I also applied to Norfolk State, Virginia State, St. Paul's College, and South Carolina State. Let's pray that I get in.

Papya: This has been the hardest year of my life. Just the other day I broke down in class. Weeks of sleepless nights, science projects, labs, piles of homework, papers, and midterms, not to mention the newspaper, finally took a toll. My tire went flat while I was driving to my fifth period calculus test. I found myself crying uncontrollably. But everyone was there for me. My friend Kanchan took me to the bathroom and helped me wash my face. Ms. Carnes was there to give me tissues and tell me everything was going to be okay. Joe was there to take pictures I didn't have the time, or energy, to take for newspaper. Josh was there to cheer me up. And everyone was there to hug me. I never realized how dependent I am on my friends. I always knew I was dependent on my family, but I thought friends were different, but they're not. They're part of my family. And I don't know how I'll let them go when we're forced to go our separate ways.

Venitra: Today was Black Jeopardy day. My Aunt Angela sponsors this event every year. It's basically Black History Jeopardy. Kids from the sixth grade up to the 12th grade can participate. I won $40. It was pretty exciting. I really enjoyed myself. Since I am graduating this year, this was my last Black Jeopardy. Next year, I will help the other kids prepare for it. My Aunt Angela thinks of the best things.

Papya: I'm like a half child/half adult mutant. Being stuck in the middle hurts. Everyone still sees me as the naive one who doesn't know that much about the "real" subjects like dating and sex and drinking. And I don't know. I really don't. But to most teenagers, how many dates/steady boyfriends one has had, the number of times you have gotten drunk, and the number of times you have "got some" are in direct relation to how mature you are. I hate that. That is why I don't think people my age understand me. I'm probably one of the oldest 17-year-olds anyone will ever meet.

 

MARCH


 

Venitra: I heard from a friend of mine that CVS is hiring. I need to go on up there. Where I worked before closed. I really need a job. My mom gives me money for food at school, but that isn't enough to buy new shoes and clothes with. I am desperate. I saw a girl with shoes I wanted at school today. That's okay though because I am going to get a job.

Travis: I heard from my first college. I was rejected by Michigan State University. The news came as a great shock. I had planned on Michigan State being one of my safety schools, and I was completely unprepared for the rejection letter. I received the letter on Friday, and it pretty much ruined my whole weekend. It is sometimes hard to accept the fact that you are not wanted. I'm still waiting to hear from four other schools. But now I'm thinking maybe I should apply to a few more that are easier to get into, so that I can be sure I will at least be accepted somewhere. Oh well, nobody is responsible for my high school record but me. I must learn to deal with the holes I dig for myself.

Venitra: I got my report card yesterday. It's not bad, but it's not good. My classes are a lot harder this year than last year. Oh well, I guess that's life. Senior class fees are due by the 15th. I better tell my mom so she can get the money together. The fees are $130. That's crazy.

Papya: I want to go to the prom. But who will ask me? And does anyone want to? AHH! I have NEVER been to an organized formal dance. All my friends keep saying, "Papya, you have to go." But it's not that simple. There are a lot of people I want to go with because they are all my friends. I just want to have fun. Actually, I want to look good and have fun. But the person I want to go with the most is the one least likely to ask me. He is so shy. I love outgoing people. But they do not leave much to the imagination. Shy people do. They are always so mysterious. They have so much to say, but you have to dig deep to get them to say it.

Venitra: I didn't feel like going to school today, but I'm glad that I did. We had a test in physics and I got a 100%. I am so proud of myself. Hard work and study really do pay off in the long run.

The Nubian Sisterhood group at school is making a trip to New York.

Travis: I got a letter a few weeks ago from the University of Colorado, telling me that they need more information and that they want me to send them my first semester grades. I can only hope the first semester grades that I thought were so unimportant will get me into a few universities. The 3.42 I got the first semester will help to raise my cumulative GPA. I'm thinking now about going to either the University of Colorado or the University of Florida, if they accept me. I'm still debating applying to another safety school like Bradley University in Illinois, or the University of Pittsburgh.

On a happier note, I will be going to Florida for spring break this Friday to again visit my dad and family. It should hopefully help cheer me up a bit. While I am down in the Sunshine State, trying to get some sort of tan, most of my acceptance (or more like rejection) letters will be arriving on or around April 1. I can only hope to keep negative thoughts out of my mind as I vacation, because nothing that I do now will change the responses I receive.

Venitra: My friend Carlos and I went up to the CVS main office today. He had an interview, and I just went to fill out an application. I enclosed my resume. Plus I was dressed up. I've got an interview for the following Monday. I hope it goes well.

Guess what! I'm going to New York on the 22nd!

Papya: I was in AP [Advanced Placement] Government today and we started talking about colleges, which seems the only topic of conversation for seniors. In a couple of weeks, my whole life will be different. And although some people may think that I am dramatizing this whole college acceptance thing, I don't think I am. Whether I like it or not, what college I go to will steer the rest of my life. It makes me nauseous every time I think about it. All the real "makers" of my senior class stand out for some reason. Some are track stars, some can sing and others just have a certain quality that makes them leaders. Where do I fit in? I wish I knew.

Venitra: My job interview went very well. I got the job.

After rushing around and carrying my luggage bags with me all day, all I have to do is get to Ms. Hendrix's house this evening. She lives all the way out in West Falls Church. I am at the bus stop now. It is so cold out here. We are going to leave for New York from her house at like 6 or 5:30 tomorrow morning to get to the bus station by 7:30.

I've gotten into five schools so far. They are Virginia State, St. Paul's College, Bethune-Cookman, Norfolk State, and South Carolina State. I am still waiting for Bowie and Morgan State.

Venitra: I have finally gotten to see New York. Brian is from Queens. I can't wait to tell him about all of the stuff that we saw. We even got to ride the subway. Nobody talks on the New York subways. It's kind of weird. Anyway, we went up there, to go to a conference. Afterward, we went to eat in the Village at a place called Vegetable Delight. Everything that we ate was vegetarian. The food was delicious. I can't thank Ms. Hendrix enough for this trip to New York. Me and Brian should come up here for a day trip ourselves. I love New York.


'I Think I Can Write My Own Prom Survival Guide'

  APRIL


Papya Ray
Papya Ray, center, cheers with her friends, Lindy Gunderson, left, and Kanchan Daswani, right, during a pep rally at Springfield's Lee High. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)

 

Papya: I had nine college acceptances. UNC wait-listed me. But Georgetown and Duke rejected. There ends my college application experience. I worked so hard the past four years. I took no "slacker" courses. [Some students] got straight A's by taking them and other basic courses that didn't challenge the mind. These are the same kids who got into most of the colleges I worked so hard to get into. Where is the justice? Colleges don't recognize hard courses. They just look for a 4.0 and a 1600.

I think my greatest mistake in this process was not studying for the SATs. I thought, "How could they weigh four years of work against a three-hour test?" But they did and they do. It says NOTHING about how smart you are, but instead how well you take a test.

Then there's the GPA. This year I saw so many people who got into colleges who didn't deserve to and others who were rejected and didn't deserve to be. I know a girl who took nine AP courses. She had a 3.5. I know another girl who took only three AP courses. She had a 4.0. Guess who got into the top 25 schools, and who didn't?

Venitra: My spring break was cool. I basically chilled at home, talked on the phone and caught up on my sleep. I got my learner's permit today and I also started work today. Getting my learner's was easier than I thought. As far as work is concerned, it was okay, but my feet are killing me. I'm wearing tennis shoes from now on.

Travis: The day before spring break, I was notified by the University of Florida that I had not been accepted for their fall semester, and the only way I would be able to attend was to go there for the summer semester first. This was another disappointment to me, but I was not ready to let that ruin my trip.

Papya: I asked HIM to prom--the guy that I have always wanted to go with. He said yes. I couldn't believe it. I was so nervous I never fully got the words out to actually ask him. Luckily he caught on and said--and I'll never forget this--"I'd love to go with you." He actually seemed excited, and he walked me to class and gave me a hug and now I feel like I'm floating on air.

Venitra: The band has started marching season again. I couldn't go to practice today because I had to work. My feet felt a lot better today. I wore my tennis shoes. I guess I'll just go to band practice on the days when I don't have to work. School is getting easier and easier as the year rolls down. I can't wait until I graduate. I've gotten into Bowie and Morgan. I can't believe it. Thank you God!!

Travis: The bad news is that I was not accepted at New York University and have been placed on the University of Michigan waiting list. The good news is that I have finally been accepted somewhere, to the University of Colorado at Boulder. I was so elated that any school at all had finally accepted me. Since I do not want to attend a summer session at UF, and I probably won't be accepted off the University of Michigan waiting list, CU-Boulder will probably be the school I attend.

Venitra: We had a senior class meeting today to talk about the class trip and also about the senior class get-together. Most of the class wants to go to Six Flags, while the rest want to go to a water park in Virginia. I pick the water park because it is cheaper. I have a job, but I don't have any money to be wasting. I am trying to save for a car. If they go to Six Flags, I'm not going.

Travis: I've decided that I will definitely be attending the University of Colorado at Boulder. This week I will be sending in my deposit. For the first time since late February, I am able to think about something other than colleges and my future. Last Friday I went to a really amazing concert, and the next day I attended my school's spring musical. Only one other student that I know at my school will be going to the University of Colorado. Almost 50 percent will be going to the University of Maryland.

Papya: I can't believe what happened today. I really don't want anything to do with this school now--especially the guys in it. The person I asked to prom yesterday who accepted saying, "I'd love to go with you," just rescinded today saying, "We would have more fun going with other people."

So what I am I supposed to do now? I just want to run away and crawl into a hole and disappear. But I can't. It seems like I'm the only girl no one wants . . . because why else would this happen to me? It is the only explanation I could come up with. It is the only reason he would have done this to me. How is this supposed to be the most fun year of my life?

Being a teenager really reeks. This is my proof. I wish I could just disappear. Why can't I do that? And most importantly, why are all guys such jerks?

Travis: Everyone is excited about graduation and the senior prom. Unlike the days of old, where boys pursued girls, it has been almost all females this year who have asked people to the prom. I was taken off guard when a girl named Elizabeth asked me. At first I thought this arrangement might be awkward because we weren't the greatest of friends, but the more I get to know her, the more fun I expect prom to be.

Papya: Why won't anyone ask me? I hate this whole prom thing. I mean it makes you self-conscious, and it kills your ego . . . especially when NO ONE wants to go to the stupid dance with you. I've been trying to get my mind off of this but I just can't. It is really important to me and I don't know why. Everyone is going, and everyone has been asked. And mark my words, I will probably either end up not going at all, or I will go with some person who really wanted to go with someone else but had to "settle" for me. I'm the "nun/goody two shoes" parents want their children to be like. All the compliments I have ever received have always come from adults. No one my age has ever thought I was pretty. God, I hate that word. I really want to go to this stupid dance. I really want to show everyone, especially HIM, that despite the fact I was DUMPED, I got a date.

Venitra: Some of the seniors left today to go on the senior class trip to Florida. I didn't go because I've been to Florida a couple of times. Brian and I were walking around the track down at the school when we saw them leaving. They looked happy.

Venitra: There was no school today, but I did go and get my hair done. This week hasn't been very busy because most of my teachers went on the class trip. Anyway, I told my hairdresser (my cousin Malika) that I wanted something a little different. I decided that my hair color was drab. She sent me over to the store to buy a color. I saw the color when I bought it, but I thought that since my hair is so dark it wouldn't come out like that. To make a long story short, my once dark brown hair is now rust red. How am I going to go to school tomorrow? And most importantly, how am I going to show my mom?

Papya: So along with all of this prom stuff, I have the "college stuff." I have no idea where I want to go. I'm so worried that I am going to make the "wrong" decision. I think it is going to be down to Tufts, Wake Forest and the University of Rochester. But who knows? I still like Boston University, UVA and GW. I should not have applied to this many colleges. I just can't make a decision. Boston University gave me an academic merit scholarship that will pay half my tuition, and they put me in honors--which means special housing and smaller classes. However, it is in Boston--a city totally different from Springfield, and almost a different world. So I guess the real question is, could I handle it?

The college I pick will change my life. It will change who I meet, and who I marry, and maybe what I become, and who my friends are, etc. It will change me. When I think of it that way, prom seems more inconsequential.

WHEN IS IT GOING TO GET EASY??

Venitra: I left the house this morning before my mom could see my hair. When I got to school, everybody reacted differently than I expected. Everybody loved it, although I did get called a few names like, Red, Curly Top, Carrot Head and Dennis Rodman. Now I have to figure out a way to show my mom. The AAA/Safety Patrol parade is coming up on Saturday and I've got to march. We wear hats and I don't want to mess up my hair, but it looks as though I may have to.

Papya: If everyone on this earth cried one tear for those students in Littleton, it would not be nearly enough. I can't believe it happened. . . . I can't believe students my age could be capable of such . . . I don't even know the correct word.

For some reason, I want to blame someone for it. I want to blame the students who did it--how could they be so cruel? How could they take someone's life away? They have NO right. But then I want to blame the parents--how in the world could they be unaware of their children's plans? They must have not been good parents.

I have so many questions right now--and no one could answer them. Littleton is so many miles away from Springfield, yet for some reason, every time I see one of those students' faces I feel like crying.

Travis: Only a week after prom is graduation. All my life, I have been preparing for this. Hard to believe only about 25 more school days left. After graduation, a few of my friends and I are going to Sea Colony for "Beach Week," a senior tradition of heading over to the coast. The one bad aspect of my senior year is all the expenses. Between prom, graduation, the senior banquet, "Beach Week," and all the other senior activities, my last year in high school has been quite costly.

Papya: I just got back from Boston. We toured the colleges and the city with two of my mom's really good friends. The three of them were the ones who interrogated the admissions officers. They all wanted to make sure that I would go to a college that "deserved" me. Which made me feel special to no end.

Tufts would be perfect--other than the fact it costs $34,000 a year. Boston U would be perfect--other than the fact it is so incredibly large. Wake Forest would be perfect--other than the fact that I think I represent the whole Asian population there.

Venitra: I showed my mom my hair today before she left for work. She didn't flip out as I had expected. In fact, she actually said that it didn't look bad. I was kind of happy that she didn't kill me, you know!! Tomorrow is Saturday and she was bound to see it sometime.

 

MAY


 

Papya: Senioritis is a sickening disease. It makes you tired and lazy. I don't have the motivation to do anything--even getting up to change the channel on the television requires too much energy. I am just so tired of everything! There is a reason they made high school only four years. There comes a point in your life where you need a change in scenery and you need to grow up. I need both. I think the only cure for it is a diploma in my hand. But it seems like forever until I get it.

Travis: Since I can remember, I've been guided by my parents and teachers. Now, finally, I will be out on my own. My mother will no longer wake me up in the mornings for class and I will have nobody to remind me to study for an upcoming big test. But, also, nobody will tell me to get off the phone because it's too late, and no one will be around to give me a midnight curfew.

Venitra: This is prom month. I am so excited. I can't wait to see how my dress turns out. I hope that it's beautiful.

Papya: I had an Advanced Placement exam today--my first of four. When does all this torture end? Some of the things I did in some of those classes were so pointless. Who is ever going to ask me what the equation for the tangent of some curve is? But all those liberal arts courses that I thought were pointless actually taught me more than my beloved science courses. I learned to write, something I thought I was incapable of before, and for that I will always be grateful to all the English teachers who put up with me--the supposed "math and science student."

Travis: The closer I get to graduation (only 20 days away!), the longer each day seems to be. All of my friends are getting antsy. I'm looking forward to "Beach Week." I can't wait to bask in the warm sun on the sand and, above all else, relax.

School at this point is hardly anything more than a joke. Final exams are only about a week away and we get out of school on June 4, same day as the Senior Prom. My grades this semester aren't great, but they are decent. I'm beginning to turn in a few job applications to local businesses to find a summer job--and I'm making flight arrangements to visit the University of Colorado for freshman orientation.

Venitra: I really need to get started on my research paper. I'm doing it on the single parent family. The paper should be very good since I have experienced this subject firsthand all of my life. I guess I'll wait though.

Papya: Today I officially know that he will go with me. Prom has been such a drama. I think I can write my own prom survival guide. Who would ever think something that was supposed to be so fun could be so painful? However, Scott has made the whole situation different. A year ago, he was just a guy who was my editor-in-chief at the newspaper. I hated him. He was always so strict and his favorite phrase was, "This is unacceptable." But that was when I was learning. It is so ironic that I even became friends with him.

After what happened with the last guy, I wasn't even sure if I would go to prom. But Josh and Kanchan locked me out of my room to find Scott's e-mail address. Kanchan wrote to him about prom, which I could not believe she would do. I would have never had the guts to ask. Then Scott, being the wonderful person he is, told her to tell me to ask him. So I did--through an electronic card over the Internet.

Everything has been so much more fun these days, since I know that I don't have to worry about it anymore.

Venitra: We are going to be taking the Superlatives pictures soon. I need to get my hair done. I'm going to call Malika tonight and ask her to do my hair. I hope she can. Everyone keeps telling me that it looks okay, but I'm still getting used to it.

Travis: Only two more days left of school! Graduation isn't until June 10. I am in the middle of taking my exams, although I am only studying for a few. Most of them don't matter too much. I'm getting excited about the prom. I have to pick up my tuxedo tomorrow, my date's corsage on Friday, and get my hair cut sometime in between.

Papya: Sometimes I really hate my parents--like right now. God, they are driving me crazy. After weighing all the pros and cons [I even made a list] of nine colleges, I decided the University of Virginia was the best college for me. Ever since I made that decision, my parents have not stopped questioning it. It has to be the first "big" decision I've made on my own, without any advice from them. I think that is exactly why it has been so hard for them to accept it.

Every day it is, "Are you sure you want to do this? What about Wake Forest, you liked their campus better. Boston University gave you half tuition, what about them?" The thing that most gets on my nerves is that all they talk about when they associate me and college is becoming a doctor. I have to be a doctor. And even though that is always what I wanted to be [ME, NOT MY PARENTS], I don't know what is going to happen in four years. Things don't always happen like you plan. I've learned that, but they haven't.

Travis: A lot of my family is coming up from Florida for my graduation. I can hardly wait to see my dad and the others. Things will be busy around here for the next week or so. Many of my friends are having graduation parties. Next Wednesday is graduation rehearsal, and I also plan on showing some of my out-of-town relatives around the D.C. area if I have time.

Venitra: We took our Superlatives pictures today. I was dressed up and everything. My mom bought me a new outfit yesterday. I felt very good about myself although I didn't get my hair done. That's okay. The job fair is tomorrow. That should be cool.

Papya: When we got to my brother's graduation at the University of Virginia today, I had goose bumps when I looked around. My older brother, the one who used to play Nintendo with me on Saturday mornings, and the one who still loves watching "The Simpsons" with me, was graduating. When the announcer began the list of last names that started with "R," I was waiting to hear his name. When my brother's name was not called, my parents and I went frantic. We rushed out of the courtyard and called my brother from a cell phone. He said he was looking for us. Turns out we walked past the place he graduated and went to another graduation. Even though I never heard his name called at the ceremony, I know it must have been special. He graduated with honors from two different organizations.

Venitra: I spent the whole day in the library today doing my research paper. It was pretty easy considering that I did do my paper on a very familiar subject. It will be ready to turn in tomorrow if I could just get my crazy printer to work.

Papya: My family and I just had a "discussion" on cleaning up the house.

"Why in the world do you have three refrigerators? Most of the time there are only two people living in this house!" my brother said. My mother, who always has a response to everything, no matter how stretched it might be, says: "One for each person and then one back up."

"Then why in the world do you keep five-year-old things in our freezer? You know that freezing things doesn't mean they are going to stay fresh?" my brother asks. Now I would have no idea what to answer to that. But my mother never concedes defeat. "I'm building your immunity," she says. My mother does her rebellious giggle, and my father and I start laughing so hard tears come to our eyes. My father is the kind of person who tells those typical corny father jokes that so many children dread, but no one can laugh at them like him. And my mother is such a character. She loves Jerry Springer and tapes "America's Most Wanted." She is known for getting free stuff, like when she orders pizzas. A lot of times the guys don't understand her and they mess the order up and they have to give us the pizzas for free. It is so weird that I am only realizing now how much I will miss them when I'm away at college. I have had the past 17 years to appreciate them, but I haven't.

Venitra: Brian finally decided to wear a tuxedo to the prom, although he is still going to wear some snakeskin boots. I got my shoes on Monday, finally. My mom got my pocketbook last night while I was at work. She also bought me some slippers to match my dress just in case my feet start hurting. I tried on my dress and it is too big. It seems that I lost a lot of weight since I went to my first fitting about two weeks ago. I am very happy about that. She fixed the dress this evening.

Venitra: My mom stayed off of work today to help me out for the prom. She took me to the hairdresser. Malika gave me big newscaster hair for the prom. I looked pretty cool. Then we came home and cleaned the house like crazy. She knew that we would be having company later and she wanted the house spotless. That got on my nerves, but I overlooked it and cleaned. At about 6:15 my good friend Kelli arrived. Then at about 6:45 Brian got there. Then at 7:00, Malika and her fiance Mike arrived. Then, last but not least, my mother's good friend who is like an aunt to me, Althea, arrived. I felt pretty good to have all of these people at the house surrounding me who loved me. Malika told me that in order to do my make-up I would have to wear contacts. I have contacts, but I took almost an hour to put them in. After that ordeal, and the ordeal of getting my make-up done, I put on my dress. It was like 8:30 and Brian and I were supposed to be at my friend Stephanie's house at 8:30 to meet the limo. I was finally dressed and ready to go, but everybody wanted to take pictures. Finally, we got to Stephanie's--and she wasn't ready. I swear the entire neighborhood was outside videotaping and taking pictures of us and the limo.

When we got to the prom it was like 10:00 and everyone was standing outside. All of us in the limo decided to sit inside and wait. We finally decided to go in. It was so nice. I had never been inside La Fontaine Bleu before. Brian and I got some of the delicious food that they were serving. They had everything from fresh fruit to fried chicken. The tables were decorated beautifully. We didn't get a chance to dance because all the DJ was playing was go-go. I like go-go music but not on prom night. We stayed until about 12:30. We rode down to Hains Point. We got out in Georgetown. The limo dropped us off at about 2:30 a.m. I had a great time tonight. I will remember it always.

 

JUNE


 

Papya: I can't believe my senior prom is tomorrow. I've been waiting for this night ever since I found out what the word "prom" meant. I just don't want to screw anything up. I am so nervous that I am going to trip over my dress or something or even worse. . . . Scott will notice that I have no clue how to dance.

Travis: The Senior Prom was last night. I went in a really large group of 26 people. First we all met at one girl's house to take pictures and wait for the limos to arrive. The picture taking was kind of tedious, but I guess 30 years from now I will cherish all of these final high school memories. After taking every possible combination of group and individual pictures, we stepped into the limos and our night began.

We were first driven to Clyde's at Tysons Corner, where we had a very nice meal (aside from the waiter spilling salad dressing on my tuxedo). After that, we were whisked away to the dance at the Doubletree Hotel. The dance actually ended up being a lot more fun than I thought it would be. Most of the music was pretty bad, although not quite as bad as most of the students' dancing. I had a very good time with my date, Liz--who looked quite beautiful. I think she had a good time too.

After the dance we went back to another girl's house and changed into normal clothes. From there, we went to our school's "Post Prom" party at a local community center. It ended at 5:00 Saturday morning, and we were all so tired we could do nothing but go back to a friend's house and sleep. All in all, the night was a blast.

Venitra: I am not going to go to school all this week. I have my driving lessons every day at 1 p.m. until Friday. Friday I am going to take my road test. I can't wait.

Papya: It is 4 in the morning and I just got back from prom and I can't stop smiling. It was all just so sweet. Everything does work out for the best. When I was dumped, I thought that nothing could possibly save this night. But I underestimated my friends, mainly Scott and Kanchan.

The events keep playing back in my mind. Putting on Scott's boutonniere, while his mom took pictures. Seeing Kanchan when we met her at her house and thinking how beautiful she looked. Scott and I walking around the Christmas lighted trees outside Sequioa's, the restaurant we went to, and how he made me laugh with every other word.

Dancing with Scott for the first time, now that was an experience. I could not even look at him for the first couple of minutes. When I finally looked up I saw the same familiar smile he always wore and somehow it was like I was myself again--not some made up "princess" for prom but instead it was me, Papya. And that must have been why he was smiling (either that, or he was trying to hold in the laughter from seeing me dance).

When I dropped him off we saw his mom was waiting for him on the couch. Then we started talking and he was falling asleep, so I pulled up a blanket for him and tucked him in. He gave me a long hug and I walked out to my car. It was almost like I was dreaming. I came home, talked to my mom about prom and fell asleep on the couch, watching a repeat of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Venitra: I didn't get my license today because I couldn't get to the DMV. My driving school teacher stood me up Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Driving school sucks.

Travis: Today is destined to be one of the most memorable days in my entire life. Today I graduated from Thomas S. Wootton High School. I walked onto stage, received my diploma, and turned my tassel to the right side of my mortarboard. Today I ceased being a high school student and became a high school graduate; today I ceased to be a child and became a man, or so they say. It's funny, but after all the ceremonies are over, I still feel like the same person. Have I changed? I'm not sure yet.

I'm positive that college will be an experience that I cannot yet begin to comprehend, and that's okay with me. I'm in no hurry to figure my life out or to grow up too quickly, although I am quite anxious to get out on my own. I'm not sure what will await me now, much like most of my other classmates. The only thing I seem to know for a fact is that today truly is the first day of the rest of my life.

1999 The Washington Post Company