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Final high school semester bittersweet for seniors, parents

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The bittersweet feeling of change is captured beautifully in the 1973 movie “American Graffiti,” in which a group of graduating seniors struggles with the end of high school careers.

Bartholomew County seniors aren’t done yet; they just started their second, and final, semester Monday. But they’re already determined to make the most of the time that remains before starting the next exciting chapters of their lives.

“I feel that my life as a kid is coming to an end,” said Austin Finney, a senior at Columbus East. “I’m just trying to enjoy my friends before we go our separate ways.”

Some East seniors took time from their two-week winter breaks to speak with The Republic about their thoughts on what’s behind, what’s ahead and what this time in their lives might mean to them as they look back someday.

Their parents are experiencing a mixed bag of emotions for somewhat different reasons. They see their kids growing up. They are excited for their futures. But they want them to enjoy every moment — every high school formal, every ballgame, every band performance — here and now.

Finney plans to attend Indiana University in Bloomington next year to begin studies to become a pediatrician. He said his high school friends will go to schools including Purdue University in West Lafayette and Hanover College.

“I have some relatives in the Lafayette area, so hopefully I can spend some time with a lot of my friends who will be going to Purdue,” he said. “I also know that I’ll make new friends.”

His mother, Gena Finney, said the reality of her son’s pending graduation from high school has been hitting her throughout the school year, particularly in terms of first and lasts.

One “last” was her son’s winter formal. One “first” came as she has watched him fill out college paperwork, like for campus meals.

Gena saw a stark example of the changing times when she watched her son, who is president of the National Honor Society, present the society’s new president at a formal event.

“It’s going to be hard to let go, but it’s also going to be really exciting,” she said. “IU Bloomington is where my husband and I went.”

Christine Awad wants to go into mechanical engineering but isn’t sure yet where she will attend college. She is leaning toward Purdue or Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute.

She said her high school friends will attend various colleges around the state, even if they’re not sure yet which ones.

Regardless, Awad knows she will see a lot less of them after graduation.

“The point it really hit me was maybe Octoberish, like after the first quarter,” she said. “I just want to spend time with family and friends and do more stuff and not stress out about things.”

She said she also will miss her family and celebrating Mass at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, where she is an active member.

She said the idea of being away from home makes her nervous, because she never has been away from home before. That’s why she plans to savor a planned trip during spring break with her family to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

“You’re excited for the future, but you still have that feeling inside you that you’re going to miss what you’re leaving behind,” Awad said.

Her father, John, said he hasn’t had much chance to think about her daughter going to college. He said he is just proud of her and how she is proving to be a great role model for her siblings.

Then there’s Kyle Stillinger, who has been thinking nostalgically about high school since the school year began in August, when he returned from basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C., in preparation for membership in the National Guard.

He wants to attend IUPUC for a year before transferring to a different school — perhaps Indiana University — and getting in a degree in construction and engineering.

Stillinger said he wants to spend time with his friends on the high school wrestling team before they go their separate ways.

He said he also will miss some of the teachers who are making a difference in his life, like U.S. history teacher Dave Fribley, who has encouraged Stillinger and boosted his confidence.

Stillinger’s mother, Cassie, said watching her son grow up is sad but also exciting, because it’s another chapter of his life.

“His father and I have good moments and bad moment where we’ll cry together,” Cassie said. “But you know what? We brought him up in a Christian home. We’ve supported him.

“We can be proud of what he’s become.”

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