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At incoming freshman orientation, I tell the 8th graders to write their questions on half-sheets of paper and throw them into the middle of the classroom so I can answer them anonymously. The questions cover a wide range: How long are class periods? Is the cafeteria food good? Can you give me any advice on how to make friends?

50 minutes.

Yes. There's a lot more variety than there is at your junior high, and you can make sandwiches in the Healthy Court line. The cookies are pretty good too.

This last question is the reason why I love being a Viking Ambassador, a Service Over Self leader, a participant in a theatre community that is equally available to freshmen as it is to seniors, and most of all, a friend to underclassmen. I have a place in my heart that is reserved especially for freshmen. Whenever I have a bonfire in the fall, or a cast party after one of our theatre productions, or even just a Friday night sleepover with my friends, I always make an effort to have every grade level represented. When I was a freshman, the upperclassman girls were my role models. I loved walking in the halls with them, talking to them about my academic challenges and my drama with my friends, and feeling like I was worthwhile when they shared their secrets with me. I feel like it is now my turn to give to my freshmen and sophomores what those girls gave to me three years ago: a feeling that I had found my place, that I was mature enough and important enough to form real bonds of friendship with a girl three years older than me, and most importantly, the steadfast belief that high school was a fun and safe place where I could be myself.

In the most recent play I was in, I had a costumer named Kate. Kate was a freshman on the gifted track, with tresses of fiery red hair and a passion for reading, knitting, and sewing. Towards the beginning of the year, she was having trouble finding her place in the school. She is about 5'11", and towers over most of the boys, and almost all of the girls in her grade. While working on the show, I got to know Kate really well. I had been on the gifted track too, and we instantly bonded over funny stories about the classes. Kate would come up to me every few weeks with a serious question about her family life or drama with her friends, and I would talk her through it and just be there to listen to her. Although Kate and I didn't have so much in common, we became fast friends, and I decided that I wanted to be an older sister and mentor to this girl who could really use a person who cared about her as part of her high school experience.

As I was getting dressed for our final performance of the show, Kate handed me a note scribbled in messy cursive. "Here Amelia," she said to me, "I wrote you this note." And with that she gave me a hug and went to go check on another cast member. I opened the note and read one of the kindest, most heartfelt letters I have ever received. At the end, she wrote, "Thank you for being so kind and open to me. Most people think I'm kinda weird but I really appreciate how you got to know me, and I've had so much fun being your costume girl and friend. You are a great role model to me and every other freshman and sophomore girl in theatre here at school. Love, Kate."

With that note, I knew I had lived up to my high school goal. I had become the girl who was so elemental to my success as a freshman. I had become more than just an older friend; the relationship between an underclassman girl and an upperclassman girl is more than just friendship. It's a nod to the continuity and longevity of the high school community. It's leaving your mark on the generations of students to come.

At incoming freshman orientation, the question about making friends made me smile. I responded simply: Find a smaller community within the high school community, something that you love with your whole heart, and fully invest yourself in it. Once you've found that place, befriend the other kids in your grade, yes, but also the upperclassmen. They will be more than happy to take you under their wing, and soon enough, you will become the role model that you once loved.



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