As we watch the series premiere of Baylor: COVID-19 Edition play out, we’re faced with a lot of lasts: last lacrosse games, last chemistry units, last club meetings, last Extra Help reports, and last dreaded weeks of finals.
For our seniors, they’re living out their last days at Baylor and, for most, preparing to embark on one last adventure: The Senior Trip. The legendary event seems to bring together the culmination of bittersweet nostalgia and exciting prospects for the future. How can a few tents and hikes through the woods extract these shared sentiments? Director of Walkabout and behind-the-scenes Senior Trip orchestrator Ashlee O’Steen '00 explains how the focus of the trip goes beyond exposing kids to the rigors and rewards of the outdoors. The hiking, rafting, service, and climbing act as an extension of time together. After Baylor, students will diverge on their individual paths, traversing state lines and oceans to wherever place they will call their new home. The unifying element of school, of Baylor, will no longer connect a grade of peers, a grade of comrades, friends, first loves, tantalizing enemies, Spanish class buddies, football bros, sympathetic acquaintances, and true sisters. It’s not important that the seniors are climbing and hiking; it’s important that they’re climbing and hiking together. After all, it will be the last time they can crack that inside joke or quarrel over that juvenile disagreement.
O’Steen also previewed some of the COVID-19 accommodations this year’s trip will include. As seniors pack into their last Baylor bus, leaving behind their redbrick fortress and heading into a daunting cloud of foliage, they’ll ride to Camp Chatuga in Mountain Rest, S.C., where their seven-day extension officially begins. Sleeping arrangements will limit too many people from sharing a closed off space as to prevent the spread of the virus, and masks will be mandatory for any indoor structures (aside from sleeping). Luckily, most activities aim to avoid the comfort of couches, smart-boards, and roofs, and while students acclimate to a lost familiarity with nature, they can forgo their masks. Who knows? Maybe being outside without a mask will feel as “normal” as being inside without one.
Another distinctive covid inspired regulation created the option for seniors to opt out of the trip altogether. (In past years, seniors could choose not to attend, but only at the consequence of staying in school and completing finals.) Despite the hassles of covid restrictions, the adaptations to previous years, and the virulent Senioritis plaguing many 12th graders, the vast majority of our seniors are dedicated to the trip, an uplifting constant in the face of tumultuous changes and a true testament to the unrelenting gaiety of our senior’s spirits.
When asking one senior who exhibits this magnanimitas, she explains her excitement for the trip saying that, “it will be a good time to branch out and talk to people I’ve never really gotten to know before.” She explained to me that the imminence of college beyond senior trip reminds her that the seniors will never see each other again. That knowledge of not seeing her peers on the daily will allow her to shed the constructs of feigned niceties and express vulnerability of character when talking to new people. In a way, the Senior Trip lifts the burden of social groups, cautious expression, and context restraints. It allows people to talk to people, so plainly and without any hindrances that it seems like a gift.
Beyond the pretense of hiking, rafting, and outdoor exploration, the Senior Trip is really a time for this gift, but seniors know this. They know the underlying reason is spending time with friends and meeting new people. They know that they must make the best of the time they have left. They know what it means to be leaving Baylor in a month, but the hard part is putting it in practice. So seniors, please enjoy yourself on this trip, don’t be afraid to show the true extent of your personality, and have no regrets as a soon-to-graduate Baylor student.