It seems like only yesterday I was stepping in front of the judges for the first time. A handful of years, closet full of uniforms and circle of best friends later, I’m faced with the end of my career as a cheerleader. Yeah, I won’t miss waking up at the crack of dawn or soaking my sore muscles at the end of a long day. But boy, I’ll miss just about everything else.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my journey has been amazing. And I wouldn’t change a thing. But as a senior, it’s my duty to share what I’ve learned along the way. That said, I leave you with the things I know now, that I wish I knew then.

Get some beauty rest.

Your mother, your teammates and your under eyes will thank you for it. You’ve got to catch some ‘Z’s to perform at your peak. And though the late night froyo runs are mighty tempting, tackling your class work is a good idea. Come game night, you’ll be able to cheer your heart out til the final buzzer and celebrate the victory without the daunting thoughts of homework.

Say “yes” to team bonding opportunities.

Even if there isn’t a gift exchange involved. Yes, you spend a lot of time with the team. But there’s something to be said about an old fashioned sleepover. No one understands you quite like this crew, so pencil in a little time to talk things out and laugh it up. Inside jokes born in the wee hours will make the time you do spend practicing a lot more bearable.

Get to know your coach.

And forgive her for the bleachers she made you run this morning. Not everyone is cut out for this job. It takes time, commitment and heart. Find out why your coach is so invested and make her job worth it. She saw something in you and it’s time for you to prove her right.

Use your platform to influence the youth.

Believe it or not, you are their idol. Close your eyes and think back to when you stood in the stands, eyes wide and rooter pom in hand. You thought the cheerleaders were goddesses and dreamed of the day you’d grace the sidelines. Now that you’ve made it to the other side of the fence, show the little ones some love and teach them the power in being a cheerleader.

Be a “yes” person.

Flexibility is key and not just the physical kind. You’re asked to lead a project? Accept the challenge. Your stunt groups aren’t working out as planned? Try a new position. You’re surrounded by unfamiliar faces at camp? Introduce yourself. There’s truth in the saying, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Recognize your mentors.

The same people who lift you up will be there if you fall. Teachers, counselors, parents and friends – many people are instrumental in your success. Give them credit. The easiest trick in the book? Thank you notes. They never go out of style.

Revel in the exhaustion.

It’s physical proof that you gave it all you’ve got. Yes, sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve hit your breaking point. Embrace the nights you hit your bed early, sore and tired, and sleep like a rock. Nights like these follow days that build champions.

Befriend the masses.

Because why not? Years from now, a smile or kind gesture may be all that some of your classmates remember about you. Leave a little cheer wherever you go and use that bubbly nature to make everyone feel like they belong. In ten years, that reunion will feel a little more like home.

Represent with pride.

Remember why you wanted to cheer for this program. Look down deep in your heart. What makes you happy when you put on your uniform? Value every moment you spend representing those colors because before you know it, you’ll be a rowdy alum sporting them from the stands.

Leave a legacy.

Sure it’s a bit cliché, but really. Year after year, new athletes are given the same chance that you’ve been granted. Make a difference. Start new traditions. Build something great. Give your grandkids something to brag about.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a cheerleader. Maybe you’ve just made it through your first tryout. Or maybe you have several years (and titles) under your belt. Whatever the case, your time will come and it will be bittersweet to say the least. So work hard, laugh harder and make it count, all the way until it’s time to toss your graduation cap.

With love,
A senior cheerleader