Unwrapping the Gift of Gratitude: How High School Seniors can Show Gratitude in the College Process

Unwrapping the Gift of Gratitude: How High School Seniors can Show Gratitude in the College Process

Kait Long
Assistant Director of College Guidance
Sewickley Academy

A quick Google search of the word “gratitude” will give you countless results ranging from blog posts to TED Talks to scientific articles. It’s a popular topic in many fields, including education, and the importance of expressing gratitude has been discussed at length. But there is one thing many of these excellent pieces neglect to mention — expressing gratitude can be hard. And sometimes, it can be really hard, especially for high school seniors in the midst of the college process. It can also be uncomfortable, awkward, and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. And that’s how you know you’re doing it right. True, genuine gratitude takes time to understand and develop, and it takes even more practice to learn how to express it.

I’ll be the first to admit that expressing gratitude was not a priority when I was a senior in high school, especially in February when the days felt long and I was anxiously awaiting college decisions. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to thoughtfully acknowledge all of the wonderful people in my life, instead of handing out quick “thank yous” and hugs during the final nostalgic days of school. I’m sure it would have felt awkward opening up to others in this way, but in hindsight, I know they deserved more than I offered.

At this time of year, when many seniors are focused on their “lasts” — the last home game, the last performance, the last final exam — there is one more important yet overlooked “last” to add to your list. It is the last time you will be surrounded by all of the people who helped you get to where you are and have shaped you into the person you’ve become. There will never be a better opportunity to express your gratitude to the people who supported you, believed in you, and challenged you to grow throughout high school. Take advantage of it.

So where to begin? First, take time to reflect. Think about the people who are meaningful in your life and why you appreciate them. Family, friends, teachers, counselors — these people, along with many others, have undoubtedly supported and encouraged you over the years. Next, take a little more time to do some honest self-reflection. Are there people on this list that you have taken for granted? People you’ve never taken the time to show your appreciation to? Because you are human, the answer is most likely “yes,” and now is your chance to let them know how you feel.

There are many ways to express gratitude, from random acts of kindness to grand gestures, but small, personal efforts are often the most meaningful. Try having a conversation with someone and say, “I appreciate you.” It’s a powerful thing to say these three little words and even more meaningful to hear them. Or, write a letter; try putting into words why you appreciate this person and how they affected your life. Share a specific example of how this person influenced you or changed you. Instead of focusing on something they did for you, focus on how they made you feel. Regardless of how you choose to convey your appreciation, do it in a way that it feels genuine to you.

When you practice small acts of gratitude, not only will you enrich the lives of those around you, but you will also begin to notice a change in yourself. You may find yourself becoming a more patient and understanding person, and seeing things from different perspectives becomes easier. You also can begin to appreciate effort rather than just outcomes and results. When you take the time to acknowledge others, your own life can be enhanced in countless ways.

Someone important to me once shared a quote by William Arthur Ward, and it has stuck with me ever since: “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” Before this chapter of your life comes to a close, I hope you take the time to share your presents with those you respect and love.

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