The art of saying goodbye

As graduation approaches, one senior processes how to bid her last farewell

Graphic by: Zainib Al-Jayashi

Graphic by: Zainib Al-Jayashi

Nicole Tinius, Editor-in-Chief

The average American student goes to school roughly 2,350 days between their first day of kindergarten and the final day of twelfth grade. Within those days are memories that shape each student to become their own person with a unique personality that is unlike any other. 

As the final days of a student’s academic career in K-12 grade come to an end, goodbyes have to be made to their teachers, friends, classes and ultimately their childhoods. 

A final goodbye, while however hard it might be, has been proven to play an influential role in how we move into the future and effects how easy it is to go through that transition. 

In a Psychology Today article titled “Goodbyes Are Important but We Didn’t Know to Say Goodbye” , Dr. Jo-Ann Finkelstein states, “Saying goodbye allows us to put words to feelings, shape how we remember someone, codify our choices, and frame distinct periods of time. In short, goodbyes give us a sense of closure as we move into the next phases of our lives.”

Psychological evidence finds that endings matter and are often what we remember most due to the recency effect, where the last words, emotions or memories are often the strongest to recall.

Finkelstein notes that “a formal or informal goodbye synthesizes the form and texture—the melody, rhythm, and harmony if you will—of our experiences into a ballad we can carry with us in our minds.” 

She believes that our endings deserve the same dedication to “ritual” and “respect” that is traditionally given to beginnings, coming full circle. “We need creativity and courage to create psychologically valuable goodbyes,” she said. 

In Kristin Hoffman’s Odyssey article titled “9 Reasons Saying Goodbye Is The Worst: Goodbyes are hard, and they shouldn’t exist,” she acknowledges that goodbyes are difficult to process on numerous levels. 

“Goodbye causes unwanted silence. Goodbye causes unwanted emotions. And sometimes, goodbye may even mean being forgotten,” she said. 

For Lincoln Southeast High School (LSE) senior Ella Salem, she reflects on her time with the Lincoln Public School (LPS) system as she prepares to journey into adulthood and leave her childhood as only memories in her past. 

For Salem, she understands what the ticking clock until graduation means, and has accepted the hard reality that she will one day have to face. 

“I am a very emotional person so I am not able to [just] leave,” she said. “I’m not going to be able to leave [LSE] and continue to try and look at pictures from high school and think about that stuff because I will cry for months if I continue to do that.” 

With the final push until graduation happening right now, she’s taking a walk down memory lane to revisit what made her who she is today before flourishing into adulthood. 

“I always imagined my senior year to just be a lot of fun, a lot of social events and relaxing, getting ready for college. But I also knew myself as the person who wouldn’t be able to say no to the AP classes and just take the simple classes and be happy with it,” Salem said.

Within her busy school life involving an abundance of Advanced Placement (AP) classes, she found joy within her Student Council (StuCo) involvement as well as her tennis careers. 

She describes her “on and off” relationship with her love of planning homecoming (Hoco) as one that developed her freshman year. She originally was introduced to hoco preparation through the decorations committee in ninth grade. Since then, she has risen to StuCo officer in charge of the whole decorations committee sophomore year, head of prom junior year and now residing as an Officer of Hoco as a senior. 

“It’s the most stressful month of my year every every single year, but at the same time it’s one of my favorite things to do,” Salem said. “To start something from scratch and see it through and see everybody be able to enjoy it is definitely something I’m going to miss.”

Another hard goodbye for her will be her love of tennis as it has produced new friends, great memories and something she has been able to explore during her high school career. 

“I’m looking at these last moments and I’m thinking there will be one of these days coming soon where I will play my last day of tennis and then I’ll be done with competitive tennis for the rest of my life,” Salem said. 

She knew going into high school that it would be no movie musical, however; the stressors behind growing up and leaving her childhood behind are different than what she thought.

“I sort of imagined my senior year to be a big celebration of the last year of public school, but instead it’s become very [real],” she said. “I have so many things that I need to do before I graduate, and so little time to do it.”

Choosing schools and applying for scholarships on top of an already packed schedule has added a new layer of stress in her life, yet she still makes sure to prioritize spending time with those she has bonded with at LSE, knowing that she will soon not be around them as much. Salem says that these relationships of hers are what will make detaching from her childhood that much harder. 

“When it comes to all the people [from LSE] that I know, [they are] like a bunch of puzzle pieces to my life. Even though some of them aren’t the most important puzzle pieces in my story they’re still there and it’s going to be hard to just cut it off and move on,” she said. 

Since elementary school, Salem has been quite the social butterfly and has been able to make friends with virtually anyone and high school has given her the opportunity to exemplify that personality trait. 

“It’s gonna be a tough day when we all graduate and walk away from each other because that’s likely going to be the last time a lot of us see each other,” Salem said. “I hope that it’s some kind of [keeping in touch] but I have a feeling that for 90% of the people in the school it’s going to be it. Goodbye, I hope you have a good life.”

Within the emotional complexity of figuring out where she plans her future to take her, lies logic mixed with a touch of hopefulness that maybe the 2022 senior class will defy the odds and see each other once more. 

“I think for me, goodbye means I hope that one day we’re going to run into each other at Trader Joes or I hope that you’re going to continue to follow me on Instagram or whatever our generation’s Facebook is going to be,” she said.

For those struggling with imagining the grieving process, or even finding themselves within the first stages, the American Psychological Association (APA) has found ways to make saying goodbye a little bit easier. 

In a “Motivation Science” article, researchers asked “How does the way people end the previous life phase impact emotional well-being and the transition into the new beginning?”

This research trio made up of Schwörer, B., Krott, N. R., & Oettingen, G. introduced the idea of a well-rounded ending, where a sense of closure is present. 

“Specifically, people should describe an ending as well-rounded if they feel that they have done everything they could have done, that they have completed something to the fullest, and that all loose ends are tied up (i.e., a feeling of closure),” the APA said.

These three found that this type of ending is associated with “high positive affect, low regret and an easy transition into the subsequent phase.”

As an example, they used exchange students to show the connection between aftermath feelings and regret. 

“The more well-rounded exchange students experienced the end of a visit abroad, the more positive they felt afterwards, the less regret they experienced about having missed out on opportunities, and the easier it was for them to settle into their home again,” the article stated. “This research is taking a new focus on life transitions by showing that efforts to end the previous phase is effective in promoting a good start. It appears that how we deal with foreseeable endings, e.g., ending high school, ending a vacation, ending a job, or even ending a conversation is as important as focusing on creating a good start.” 

Within the rush to grow up, a student’s childhood may never have the opportunity to be fully mourned.

“In our fast-paced world, this is an important message to remember: Take your time to end in a well-rounded way in order to be equipped to peacefully start anew and go on with your life,” the APA said. 

Hoffman’s reassurance she receives has made herself feel better and therefore wants to share it with others to help them as well.

“I’m here to say it’s OK not to want to say goodbye. It’s OK to become emotional when you have to say it. It’s OK to say goodbye even if it may not feel like it. Goodbye may mean change, but change is OK,” she said.

Instead of the traditional cold-cut goodbyes, a softer send off is what Salem is looking at getting out of having to say goodbye to her childhood.

“I really hope that my goodbyes can become a ‘ill see you later, I’ll see you soon’ sort of thing,” Salem said.