Seniors Rule

Do you remember the back-to-school tradition that occurs regularly during the first few months of every year? When the seniors launch water balloons out of Hobart’s windows onto unsuspecting freshman as they walk by, heads buried in campus maps and class schedules? Or how sometimes just for fun, the seniors throw the freshmen into the hockey pond or into the bushes outside of Ellsworth Hall?

No. Of course you don’t. At Western Reserve Academy, seniors and freshmen talk to each other. This dynamic comes as a result of an inclusive culture that was developed over many years through the Green Key Society. The original idea of the program was that new students would be paired with an experienced senior mentor at the school. A senior can support new students in a multitude of ways—from course selection to dorm life or even offer advice about asking someone to a dance. The senior class has, for the most part, done it all.

Should juniors be Green Key mentors? The very definition of a “junior” is “a person of lower rank, status or experience.” Seniors have 50% more experience at WRA than juniors do. As an incoming freshman, would you rather be assigned to someone with two years of high school experience as opposed to someone with three years?

Seniors also have an age advantage. Research suggests that when a mentor is too close in age to the mentee, the mentor is likely to act like more of a friend than a mentor. While it’s great to have friends, that’s not the objective. Everyone needs both friends and mentors as they go through life.

Having a junior fill the shoes of a Green Key mentor could slowly, but meaningfully, change the dynamic of the culture at our school. Considering the idea that the program was originally designed with seniors in mind as mentors, senior leaders accept and embrace the responsibility and duty of assisting incoming freshmen. If even one senior is nice, a new student’s view of the entire community could be positively impacted. On the other hand, if the freshmen aren’t able to connect with or have a relationship with the leaders of the school, they may feel isolated.

One freshman I talked to continuously praises his senior mentor. “In the beginning, my senior Green Key was doing most of the talking but now I’m more comfortable talking to seniors in general. It’s been great for my confidence and sense of inclusion at school. I can talk to my Green Key for advice instead of just trying to talk to teachers or parents. We talk about stress, getting everything done, the college process, finding weaknesses and ways to improve. I’m not sure I would be that open with a junior, who hasn’t seen as much.”

We seniors are busy people. We have a ton of responsibility—we are usually the captains on the varsity sports teams or the leaders in other school organizations and clubs. We are simultaneously applying to colleges, which takes up a significant amount of our time. With juniors taking spots as Green Key mentors, seniors may mostly opt out of the program over time, disconnecting with the student population. The Green Key mentor role is a way to keep seniors engaged with the entire WRA community during a year where we’re mostly looking outward.

I also talked to a WRA hopeful—an eighth-grade student who is applying to WRA this winter. She confirmed, “It doesn’t make sense to have a younger person as a mentor.” Most of the seniors feel the same way. As one senior described it, “Juniors shouldn’t be Green Keys because seniors are so much more respected and knowledgeable.”

Seniors rule. That’s not to say that juniors are off the hook. In fact, education experts embrace the idea that a broad web of formal and informal mentors is key to successfully serving young students. It makes the most sense, though, that the formal mentorship comes from advisors, teachers, and of course, seniors.

-Tim Zamarro ’20

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