By Emily Sanchez

I have a vivid memory of sitting in the senior area as a newly accepted eighth grader and listening to a panel of students talk about Pingry. It was the first time I had ever actually visited Pingry, and knowing absolutely no one, I was nervous out of my mind. I remember a parent asking a question along the lines of, “What are easy ways to make friends at Pingry?” My interest piqued as I started to take mental notes of everything that the students said. One student’s response stuck with me throughout high school. He couldn’t think of any additional thoughts that were not already mentioned by his peers, so all he said was: “I don’t really know exactly how I made my friends. All I know is that one day I looked around and realized that I finally belonged.”

As freshman year rolled around, I kept reminding myself that I just had to wait out the awkward part. Everything would eventually come together before my eyes, and I’d just belong. Although admittedly a little bit slower than most, I joined clubs, played sports, and found my friends. However, the moment promised to me by the student on the panel did not come until my senior year.

I’m sure the rest of my grade would agree when I say that we always felt like a lesser grade than those before us. The grade directly above us was considered one of the smartest to ever go through Pingry, and we were the grade that had a Juul scandal and two kids who were expelled. While other grades generally got along with each other, our grade was very cliquey. This all changed senior year.

For some reason, our grade really flourished this past year. We consistently went to sports games and theater performances, the cliques faded to simply groups of friends, and we helped each other through the college process with hardly any sense of competition.

Cut to February and there had been a string of suicides at various surrounding schools, some of which deeply affected members of our class. A lot of us felt like the school wasn’t doing enough to address it, so the peer leaders decided to organize a form meeting in which a handful of students sat on the edge of the stage in Macrae and shared their stories regarding mental health. Usually, there is a slight hum during form meetings due to the large number of people in a relatively small space. But this time, every single person in the theater was absolutely silent. The vulnerability from the seniors that spoke and the respect from the rest of the class created an atmosphere in the room that everybody involved will never forget. There was an unspoken sense that we were all struggling in our own ways, but that everyone in our grade was there to help us get through it.

After the seniors who shared their stories were finished, we did something that the peer leaders call “shout-outs,” which is exactly what it sounds like. People started standing up, without any prompt and thanked somebody else in our grade for something small that they had done in the past. Seniors from every friend group in our grade ended up shouting out their friends, or sometimes people they barely knew. 

In the middle of the shout-outs, the student from the panel popped into my head. I found myself looking around the room and thinking that I could, with one hundred percent confidence, say that I felt like I belonged in the Class of 2020. That feeling has not left since.