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I remember my very first day of school. All the fifth and sixth graders, the highest grades in the school, appeared so much older than I, and it seemed as if I would never reach that age.

But I did. Then when I was in sixth grade, the high school kids seemed so mature and I thought it would be forever before I made it to high school. But, soon enough I was.

Freshman year, I thought graduation was eons away. But it wasn't, because now it has come and gone, and freshman year doesn't seem that long ago. Now college looms before me and many other graduates in the class of l998. This year is different than all the ones before it. Friends won't be fretting about not being in homeroom together, even though many will be heading off to colleges all over the country and leaving friends and family alike.

Going away to college is an experience that is both thrilling and terrifying. The prospect of being on your own with no curfew, no parents and few rules is daunting, but most incoming freshmen can hardly wait to get on campus.

However, first they have to say goodbye to the things and places they have come to know and love: their high school, friends, parents, siblings, bedroom, house, dog and anything else familiar. So, as the summer comes to a close and the academic year begins once again, it's just starting to really hit most incoming freshman that they are leaving.

"The hardest part about leaving will be tying up all the loose ends with my friends and family. All of our schedules are pretty hectic right now. I'm trying to figure out how to say goodbye to everyone before I leave," says Molly Morin, a 1998 Orchard Park High School graduate who will be attending Notre Dame University. There are a lot of people and things to say goodbye to and each one is a little different.

It's hard to leave a place you feel you've become a part of. Matthew Crehan Higgins, a 1998 West Seneca East High School graduate who will attend Niagara University, cites his job as something that will be difficult to leave, "I found something I like to do, I like the people and I get paid well. That's hard to find," he says. "I'm not going that far, so I'll see my family, but I still hate to leave my job." It's hard to leave a situation that you feel very comfortable in, such as a job, because you've adjusted to a routine and earned the respect of others, leaving means starting that process again.

For those that are traveling farther away, they must face saying goodbye to their friends. This is the goodbye that most people find to be the hardest. Students will miss their families while they are away, but they can count on their parents and siblings being there when they return for holidays and summer. Friends will travel in diverse directions, and the group dynamic will never quite be the same since everyone is taking different paths. "It will be strange to be without my friends, especially since I've known a lot of them since first grade," adds Molly.

For many who are leaving for college, the summer has been spent working and spending as much time with friends as possible. First there was an endless stream of graduation parties and then outings to movies, the beach and concerts. Seeing so much of each other has eased everyone's mind over having to eventually say goodbye. But soon friends will have to leave each other and wonder whether they will be successful in keeping touch.

Shannon Kishel, a 1997 graduate of East Aurora High School and a sophomore at Denison University, offers this advice: "Use e-mail. It may not be very personal but it's convenient. Although you're going to have many new friends and experiences, it's important not to close yourself off to old friends." She also adds that relationships with high school friends will change. "I don't think I've lost any friends; I'm not on bad terms with anyone. Yet, I have many new interests that are sometimes different than friends in high school."

Technology has certainly made it easier to stay in touch. Virtually every college student in the country has access to e-mail. Often it's much easier to drop a quick note to a friend rather than call or send a letter via "snail mail." As a result of e-mail, most college students will stay in touch with at least 10 more people than they would have without it.

What if you're staying in the area for school and all your friends are going away? This is the situation that's facing Meghann Fitzgerald, a 1998 Nardin Academy graduate who will attend Canisius College. But she seems content with her situation. "They (my friends) are not really leaving me, just going different places. It helps that I'm dorming and not staying at home. That way I can see my mom when I want but I'm not at home. Besides, friends can come visit me and stay with me when they come home. I don't feel like I'm being abandoned."

It's difficult to watch the diaspora of friends, but saying goodbye to family, despite what we think at times, isn't going to be any piece of cake. I won't miss my dad telling me to do the dishes, but I will miss watching Bills games on Sunday with him. I won't miss my mother's lists of chores, but I will miss talking to her. Despite my sister's celebration over having her own room, I know that she'll miss me and I'll miss her. I'll miss my dog greeting me and baby-sitting my brother.

So I and many of my friends are bracing ourselves for a week of goodbyes. As one friend said, "We won't say goodbye, just good night." There will be tears on moving day when we leave our parents, but we'll be too busy assimilating to college life to dwell on any sorrow. Going away to college is a great experience and opportunity for those who are going are lucky to have it.

Among the things I'm saying goodbye to is NeXt. Writing for it has been a privilege and a challenge I am grateful to have had. Good luck to all those leaving for college, especially my friends. The end is just another beginning.