First and Last: a year-long series following freshman Lars Askegaard
and senior Bailey McKenzie through a year of hopeful starts and emotional endings
It was at the end of the Back to School Dance when the music softened to the piano chords of “Lean on Me.” Senior Luke Frazier grabbed the microphone, pointed to the crowd of neon bodies and challenged his classmates to “make the most of senior year.” Then the chorus hit and the seniors threw themselves into each other: leaping and screaming with their gleaming arms in the air. Drowning in the ocean of sweaty bodies was a girl in a blue striped dress.
Senior Bailey McKenzie threw her head back, singing “Lean on me, when you’re not strong.” She was energized by the moment. She was also sentimental, realizing that it was her last Back to School Dance – and that this was only the first of many ‘lasts’.
“I’ll be caught between those two worlds a lot this year,” McKenzie reflected. “I’m so excited for college and it’s like ‘Yes! High school will be over!’ but it’s also so sad and scary that everything will change when this year ends.”
Senior year means living in the moment while also looking forward to the future. For McKenzie and her classmates, being back to school means hearing more of the same question: ‘Do you know where you want to go to college?’
At this point in the process, McKenzie’s answer is ‘No, I don’t know yet.’
“But I really do think about it a lot,” she defended.
McKenzie began visiting colleges this past summer.
She visited Elon University in North Carolina while on a family vacation. Unsure of whether she wants to join a sorority, she found Greek life to be too prominent on campus.
She also visited St. Thomas and the University of Minnesota, with the intentions of comparing a small private school to a large university. Yet after her tours, she discovered that size wouldn’t be a big determining factor for her.
“I think I could handle either,” McKenzie stated. “I was worried that I wouldn’t want to go to St. Thomas because it’s across the river from where I go to school now, but I ended up really liking it. I like that it’s in the city, it’s convenient to get around, and that I know where places are around here.”
McKenzie hopes to visit more campuses this year, but until her busy dance schedule allows it, she does most of her research online.
She kicked off her first day of senior year with a free hour: a time she wants to use for working on college applications, getting writing help, and visiting her counselor. During free hour, ‘back to school’ means looking forward.
But from the center of the dance floor, ‘back to school’ means living in the moment; it means more than the college process. For McKenzie, it’s dancing with her classmates for one last year: leaping and screaming in an ocean of sweaty bodies.
In the back of the room, freshman Lars Askegaard stood amongst a line of new friends, wide-eyed, watching McKenzie sink into a heap of howling upperclassmen. It was Askegaard’s first high school dance.
It’s also his first year at Minnehaha Academy, after spending kindergarten through eighth grade in Eden Prairie public schools (interrupted by two years at Eagle Ridge Academy).
Unlike McKenzie in college decisions, school size had a big affect on Askegaard.
“I was caught up in the big school, domination type environment with the high school winning football championships five years in a row,” he explained. “There were so many people. I wasn’t getting to know anyone very well and that was really hard for me.”
Coming into Minnehaha with a freshman class of 71 students, he describes his transition as “a big change but a really good one.”
“I dove right into Minnehaha the moment I walked through the door,” Askegaard explained, describing freshman orientation. “We ran through a tunnel of interns yelling and cheering for us.”
For Askegaard, ‘back to school’ really isn’t ‘going back’ to anything. He’s immersing himself in a completely new environment, but he’s done everything he can to make it a good plunge.
He learned a whole level of Latin over the summer, a requirement when Latin I wasn’t offered at Minnehaha this year. He dedicated summer camp bus rides to learning vocabulary and meeting with senior Tyler Radtke for tutoring sessions. He came to school with a summer’s worth of hard work behind him and walked straight into Latin II.
Askegaard also suits up for varsity soccer games, with the number 15 etched on his back. He’s officially on the C-Squad team but is asked to dress for varsity games.
It was the first Saturday of the school year when he laced up on the bench next to a few of his freshmen classmates. He watched his Redhawk team win 3-1 against Apple Valley, only a few inches away from the action.
After the game, he went home with a group of new friends. He pulled his Minnehaha jersey off his back and changed into neon clothes. That night, he walked into his first Back to School Dance: only the first of many firsts.