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Part V: Journey to Goodbye

Previously Published Jun 2. 2021

Previously Published Jun 2. 2021

The first goodbye comes on a Monday. We host a last supper for the departed with more pizza than we know what to do with. 

Before we left for Main Street, I asked Colin to take me to a place I had never been, a candidate for what could be a hastily planned senior sunset. 

At Communication Hills, the sky is the right shade of blue. Not quite Pantone 292, but close. We jog up and down the four tiers of stairs on the hill and can’t help but focus on how out of shape we are.

Out of nowhere: “I almost miss running up and down those BISV stairs.”


It evolved into a force to be reckoned with. It metastasized like cancer. It settled like bricks in my stomach. It was the consolidation of everything beautiful and hideous enveloped into a single moment. It was loneliness.


Reddit Post Alena sends me as I struggle to find the words to contain goodbye:

i graduate in one month. there are people that i haven’t seen since march 13, people that i’ll likely never see again. those people in your math class, the ones you’d never talk to outside of school but you’d nod to each other in the hallways and talk about your lives while you were meant to be doing classwork? you’ll never see them again. that one guy you had a crush on (and you’re pretty sure he had a crush on you too) but everything went unresolved after 3/13/20? you’ll never see them again. your favorite teachers, your least favorite teachers, your counselors, the administration? you’ll never see them again. people that i had drama with but would have liked to have ended on friendly/neutral terms with? i’ll never see them again.

it feels like life was put on hold that day in march, and it feels like it hasn’t restarted since (i’ve been remote this entire time). i’m graduating soon, and i’ll never get that part of my high school experience back. we don’t have a prom, a lot of kids aren’t going to graduation, and we have no clue what the school plans on doing for last year’s grads, let alone this year’s. it feels like all of those friendships and projects and fights and budding friendships/crushes have been on hold, but now that things are ending, they’ll stay on hold forever. i’m tired and sad and i’m lucky that i had a friend group throughout all of this, but there’s still so many people that i would have liked the chance to at least say goodbye to (or at least say sorry).


At the end of eleventh grade, Maestra Mayra instructed us to write a letter to ourselves in a year, likely knowing how much the next twelve months would weigh both on our minds as well as on our hearts. She promised to email them to us once we graduated.

I am reminded of this letter when Alena texts me the Reddit rant on goodbyes. Against reason and rhyme, the urge to read what May 2020 Serrina wrote engulfs me.

Would it be voyeurism if I opened it early? I didn’t care.


Excerpts from the Letter-to-Yourself-a-Year-from-Now homework assigned in AP Spanish circa May 2020:

If you’re receiving this letter you must know—I am so proud of you. You survived and lived to tell the tale.

I still remember the survey we both filled out at the end of eighth grade when we were about to step into the maroon cap and gown of Challenger School. When asked, “what do you look most forward to in high school” we answered, “graduation and the inevitable departure.” We were mocked for that; after all, everyone else giggled over romantic crushes, football games, prom, homecoming, their first kiss. But we did not want any of that. We wanted our freedom. You are so close to achieving that freedom, Serrina, but please reflect on that question once more. After the sixteen or seventeen AP exams and courses you have forged through and countless other minor exams, you have every right to acknowledge high school as a miasma of excruciating torture, but I want you to remember the ethereal moments of light that now dabble in the rainbow that will shine before your future. Remember AP Lang with Ms. Abdelaziz. Remember delirious food reviews with The Quill. Remember the Mock Trial memes. Remember your friends. 

Once again, I am so proud of you, but that will not matter unless you are proud of yourself, which you undoubtedly should be. Even in the darkest hours of the night, continue to cling to the things you have fallen unconditionally and irrevocably in love with. Most of all, thank all the people you have braved this journey with, from the teachers who imparted their infinite wisdom upon you whose patience you have no doubt tried consistently to your friends who have endowed you with their undying love and support from the moment you said your first hellos to them to even the enemies you have fought along the way; they have made you who you are today. You, Serrina, are the sum of all your experiences, the manifestation of a destiny waiting for you to embrace it. I love you, Serrina, and you should too. 

All my love forever,

Your past Serrina self

P.S. I hope you have fixed your sleep schedule. Three to four hours of sleep just was not cutting it. 


When I started writing this, I wanted it to be a monument to the senior year—a gospel of wisdom laced in the catharsis of leaving at long last. But the closest I’ve ever come to reaching absolute enlightenment on the subject of goodbyes was over a cup of Philz hot chocolate on the first day of spring when I overheard a frustrated pair of girls not much older than myself groan about “the year that didn’t happen.” 

I had just finished reading up on the thought experiment: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or in more applicable terms: If a year is incubated in quarantine and no one is actively engaged with life in real-time, did it happen at all?

I thought about it as I sipped my Philz hot chocolate and realized I didn’t have to.

In the last year, I survived college applications, which was no easy feat. I built the Quill website from scratch with Alena. I was admitted to Columbia Early Decision. I poured all my love, loss, and longing into words. I found a network of fearless revolutionaries who became my closest friends. I watched my friends—old and new, tried and true—gain admission to their dream colleges, and we drank Philz together, laughed over inside jokes as old as the Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just a Bill” song Dr. Parson made us belch back in AP US Government together, and soon, we’ll have walked to the procession of “Pomp and Circumstance” in caps and gowns together. Hopefully, sometime in the near future, we’ll fix our sleep schedules, too. I cried (many times to be sure). I came of age. I saw the end of an era. I conquered high school. But most importantly: I lived.

And somehow, I know that when I step over the threshold of my front door after graduation, my home will be pitch black. But this time, the room will also be brighter than it ever has been.

So the answer was yes. Without question, yes. It happened, and it is still happening. And I know this the way I never knew the number of banners behind my head.

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Serrina Zou, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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