It's okay to be sad about your senior year, but that doesn't lessen your JMU experience.

Dear Dukes, 

When I was a senior at JMU, I was a Leadership Counselor for Make Your Mark On Madison (affectionately, MYMOM). It was in that community, after three years of searching, that I had my deepest sense of belonging at JMU. I had found my people. Not only were my fellow LC’s incredible and my co-leader a gem of a human being — but my first-year council blew me away. While I was there to be a support for them, I found their stories and struggles as first years personally teaching me valuable lessons and creating lasting bonds. 

As I’ve kept in touch with them over the last four years, I have continued to be amazed at their growth and maturity. Each one of them has poured their life and passion into organizations, relationships and projects and has truly made JMU a better place. To say I am a proud mom is an understatement. I can’t believe I had the privilege to meet them and watch them grow astronomically in four years. 

As I opened my email yesterday to find the rest of spring semester at JMU moved online, all I could think of was the faces of these 11 seniors… and then every other senior.  

All I could think about was how one moment they left for spring break and the next, they’re realizing they won’t be coming back to JMU.  

All I could think about were all the canceled plans, canceled parties, canceled get-togethers, canceled senior check-off lists. 

All I could think of were the goodbyes they never got to say. 

All I could think of were the senior memories they planned to make that have been stolen from them. 

My sweet seniors, my heart hurts for you. My heart breaks for the memories you won’t get to make in the next 8 weeks.  

I know this is so hard, so I want to tell you a few things. 

Take time to process and give yourself grace. This is really hard. You’re aware of the pain the entire world is feeling right now, but don’t minimize your own. It’s okay to grieve. Your senior year will look different than you ever could have expected and that hurts. 

Your time at JMU isn’t less than because you’re missing the last 8 weeks. On the off-chance that you feel like you didn’t get the whole JMU experience because you won’t physically be on campus or in Harrisonburg for the last 8 weeks… don’t believe that lie. Is it a different experience? Yes. It is lesser? By no means. 

You’ve made a difference and JMU is better because of you. Regardless of if you were in a club, organization, fraternity, sorority, etc… I guarantee you made a difference. You were a friend to someone and you let someone know they belonged. You opened a door for an awkward amount of time and passed on tradition. You wrote thoughtful papers, contributed in class, smiled at our Starbucks and Dunkin cashiers, talked with dog-walkers on the quad, took notes for disability services, intervened when you heard an inappropriate comment, stood up for justice, traveled abroad and grew in uncomfortable moments. You have grown beautifully since your first year and the JMU community has been impacted by it. 

They’ll be different… but you will make memories. And they will be good memories. They might not be what you expected. They might be FaceTiming multiple times a day or watching a show together on Netflix Party. They might be creating and sharing multiple TikToks, sending copious memes and texting with loved ones until your fingers are sore. It might be learning how to love your community at a distance. You’re still making memories and they will still be with your loved ones. 

Senior year is sweet… but it isn’t everything. I know this could be hard to hear when I just told you to give yourself a space to grieve, but I really want to stress this because I think you need to hear it. 

While my sense of community felt deepest during senior year, that’s not when it started — and it’s definitely not when it ended. Some of the best advice about my JMU experience came from a fellow alum, Casey Templeton (06). Casey said, “JMU can be the best four years of your life so far… but not the rest of your life.” 

When I think back about my JMU experience, I don’t think about my senior photos, my bucket list for senior year, final projects or even walking at graduation. In fact, my graduation sat in the freezing, pouring rain on the quad. I do think about my relationships. I think about the birthdays I celebrated. I think about the games I went to. I think about the classes I skipped just to sun bathe on the quad when the weather was nice. I think about my awkward GCOM group presentations. I think about that professor who believed in me and encouraged me to choose another major that made me happier. I think about how sweet all four years were — and how my memories have only gotten sweeter post-graduation. 

Nothing is ending at JMU for you. You’re not saying goodbye. You’re saying hello to a lifetime of running into fellow Dukes across the country. You’re saying hello to a whole new JMU community for the rest of your life — to new memories and coming back to campus for Homecoming to remember old memories. 

Fun fact: Did you know that you’re an alum once you’ve completed 12 credits at JMU? That means you’ve been a part of the alumni since your first year. So, in case you didn’t know that, welcome to the JMU alumni family. It will only get better from here. And there are over 140,000 living alumni here to welcome and support you all across the world. We’re all rooting for you and are always here to support you and make memories with you for the rest of your life. So, don’t say goodbye — say hello to all the new memories senior year is opening up to you. 

With all my purple & gold love,

Sarah (’17)