Illustration by Alexa Chang

A doctor diagnoses a senior with senioritis.

Chloe Park

At 11 p.m. on a Sunday, Maddie Cunniff ’23 sat staring at the daunting list of school work that awaited on her computer. She had a lab write up, major presentation and several assessments in the coming week, which she said typically would have required her to stay up for hours to complete thoroughly. Yet, after briefly skimming through her slides and browsing her halfway-finished study guide, she said she found herself clicking open her Netflix account, where ‘The Hunger Games’ caught her eye. Before she knew it, she was almost finished with the movie, her school work no closer to completion than before.

Senioritis, the phenomenon that many seniors like Cunniff say they experience in their second semester, is defined as an “ebbing of motivation and effort by school seniors as evidenced by tardiness, absences and lower grades,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Cunniff said after her senioritis set in, decisions to push aside her pending assignments became more and more frequent. In the past couple weeks, she has chosen to go out with friends, bike around her neighborhood or sleep instead of focusing on completing her school work.

Although Cunniff was accepted to college under its Early Decision II program, which released decisions mid-February, she said her senioritis didn’t truly set in until months later.

“My senioritis really started hitting harder after spring break, because most of my senior peers were starting to relax a little at that point,” Cunniff said. “That’s also when I realized how little time I had left in high school, which made me want to really soak in my experiences beyond homework and the classroom.”

Cunniff said she thinks senioritis is justified after second semester, especially if seniors still maintain some level of work ethic. She said most seniors continue to invest effort into their classes both to stay prepared for college and also due to the rigorous nature of the school.

“Honestly, I think that seniors deserve a break once the second semester hits, especially after all of the work that we have put in over the past three and a half years,” Cunniff said. “Though it can be tempting to give up completely, I don’t personally know anyone who’s done so. I also think that most people want to stay prepared for college, and don’t want to be completely out of their academic rhythm by the time school starts again. Many Harvard-Westlake kids are wired to work hard, so it’s difficult for them to completely turn off.”

Cunniff said teachers are generally understanding and willing to decrease workload to give seniors the chance to enjoy their last couple months of high school.

“Most of my teachers are okay with [senioritis], and are sympathetic about the fact that we need a breather at this point in our lives,” Cunniff said. “Particularly in my classes that only have seniors in them, my teachers are easing up on homework and tests to allow seniors a little more free time. They were once high school students too, and they’ve taught seniors for many years, so they know that a bit of senioritis is only natural at this point.

Mathematics teacher Kent Palmer, who teaches two sections of AP Economics, an all-senior class, said he can see a notable, though not extreme decline in effort, as students continue to work hard even after their grades are submitted to college.

“I think senioritis is a little exaggerated,” Palmer said. “After spring break in a typical year I’d say I get a noticeable slowdown in motivation in some classes, but before that, even after first semester grades are in the book, most people tend to keep grinding.”

Palmer said the decrease in emphasis on assessments that results from seniors getting into college can actually be beneficial for genuine learning.

“I think that it’s liberating for students, not having to be quite so obsessed with every single point you earn or don’t earn,” Palmer said. “Rather than an invitation to loaf, I wonder if there’s more actual learning that happens, rather than just test prepping.

Palmer said most teachers have a realistic mindset regarding senioritis, realizing that the everyday effort that seniors previously demonstrated is not going to be maintained in the spring when college decisions are released.

“I’d like to think most of us teachers are realists,” Palmer said. “Incentives matter. I’d be a pretty lousy teacher if I didn’t acknowledge that. I think teachers care whether students are engaged and trying and bringing their best to class. So, to the extent that this maybe becomes less prevalent at some point in the spring, a little frustration is likely among teachers.”

Elliot Lichtman ’23, who was accepted early to his college in mid-December, said he thinks senioritis is inevitable and can pose problems if students’ senioritis manifests differently.

“I don’t think there’s much that can be done about senioritis,” Lichtman said. “Is it a huge issue? Depends on the situation. If it’s an individual assignment or a test grade that will only be seen by you, then that’s fully up to the individual student and a degree of senioritis is totally fine and perhaps unavoidable. But when it’s a group project, you’re the leader of something or you’re working with a team of people on an extracurricular, there are definitely some issues when different people have very different ideas about what a reasonable degree of senioritis looks like.”

Lichtman, who continues to maintain a similar level of work even after getting into college, said his senioritis only impacts him in certain classes.

“For me, senioritis has made me avoid or speed through busywork assignments which are either repetitive or needlessly time consuming,” Lichtman said. “In classes where I’m challenged to grapple with the material at every step and prepare not necessarily just for a test but instead for a discussion or a group activity where everyone is engaged instead of mindlessly copying notes, I don’t feel particularly affected by senioritis at all. But when it’s time for meaningless AP review practice test number 3 out of 4 assigned for homework that night, that’s when the senioritis starts to kick in.”

Seniors are not the only students on campus who deal with burnout and mental exhaustion. Although she is a junior, Morgan Orwitz ’24 said she sympathizes with seniors and can understand where their senioritis comes from. Since she has some classes with seniors, she said she can recognize how senioritis may negatively impact the classroom experience as a whole, but believes it is nevertheless justifiable.

“Sometimes I feel bad for teachers, especially those who teach classes that have a lot of seniors, since they have to rely on the juniors to participate and put in effort since seniors aren’t,” Orwitz said. “But, I feel that senioritis is definitely so valid. Even as a junior, I already feel so done with everything and I can definitely relate to the feeling of just wanting to relax and really enjoy the last bit of high school.”

Head of Upper School Beth Slattery gave seniors one excused absence either on April 14 or April 17 to coincide with Coachella weekend. The intention was for seniors to not take a separate day off, and treat the excused absence as their “ditch day” according to Slattery.

“I knew that a good chunk of [seniors] were going to be gone anyway, some people for college visits or whatever,” Slattery said. “So I thought, ‘Okay, well, then [seniors] could have one of those for free’, thinking that it would then prevent people from doing another one.”

However, many seniors decided to take an additional day off on May 12 to spend time with their entire class at Will Rogers State Beach, with 229 unexcused absences, according to Student Discipline and Attendance Coordinator Gabriel Preciado.

Stella Glazer ’23 said she thought the second ditch day was necessary since the excused absence did not fulfill its purpose.

“I definitely thought it was worth it to have our own real ditch day, because the one that the school gave us wasn’t really [a ditch day],” Glazer said. “[The excused absence] didn’t have the same point as all the ditch days in past years. We didn’t ask for [the excused absence]. The whole point of senior ditch day is for the bonding experience with your whole grade at the end of the year, and with the Coachella ditch day, the whole grade wasn’t together. Some kids were still in school, some were at Coachella, some kids were going to Coachella the next week. So, it didn’t serve the intended purpose. That’s why I was totally pro the second ditch day because the whole grade was together at the beach. We all were having a great time and actually got to have a good bonding day.”

Slattery said the additional ditch day was disrespectful and she wishes seniors would hold a sense of accountability.

“Do I wish people would make different choices?” Slattery said. “Sure I do. And it’s fine. So just own it. [Students] here don’t want to feel any discomfort and don’t want anybody to ever be upset with them, but [they are] ditching school. I’m [not going to say], it’s totally fine, ‘you should go and enjoy yourselves and come to school whenever you feel like it.’ I just think people need to accept that. Sometimes you do stuff and people are disappointed.”

Glazer said while she felt guilty for ditching since the school discouraged taking a second ditch day, she does not regret her choice to go.

“I went to school for my first two classes and left at lunch because the teachers for my classes after lunch didn’t mind at all,” Glazer said. “My teachers were honestly super understanding and one of them even agreed with seniors that the Coachella ditch day was pointless. I definitely felt bad going because the administration was upset, but it was definitely a great day for the whole grade.”

Although she was initially frustrated about the ditch day, Slattery said given the circumstances of this year, she is keeping a more relaxed mindset, except towards students who have already accumulated too many absences.

“I was kind of annoyed at the sense of entitlement, just the ‘we work so hard, and we deserve this’,” Slattery said. “But, I already gave [seniors] a day off, and then people would go ‘but we didn’t ask for that day off.’ I decided to just let it go because it sounds like people had fun going to the beach. In this particular year, I don’t need to be hard on people. The only people I was irritated with are people who already missed a lot of school that were told by their deans [to not] go on senior ditch day.”

Head of School Rick Commons said senioritis has been an issue for generations, but this year in particular he doesn’t see it as problematic.

“Senioritis has been a problem for spring semester seniors forever,” Commons said. “It’s one of the few ways in which my high school experience is not different from [the current] high school experience. But I think that [the senior] class and the school community has experienced this spring a level of grief and human tragedy that makes concerns about who’s doing what homework trivial. So, do I think that the school ought to try to figure out new ways just as in 1984 my teachers were trying to figure out new ways to motivate spring semester seniors? Yes of course, we should be creative about that, but as it pertains to [the senior] class, it is the last thing on my mind.”

Commons said looking forward, he hopes the school continues to optimize students’ learning, but this year’s circumstances make senioritis less important.

“I think our sense of perspective will inevitably be broadened,” Commons said. “I think students and teachers alike will be better able in the memory of this spring to identify things that matter and things that don’t. Consistent work ethic and attention to detail, those are things that matter. I think that senioritis in a season of sadness is trivial. I hope that we are able to learn from it, but I hope that we don’t become a place that is culturally tolerant of lackadaisical underperformance by students who have incredible potential. That’s different from senioritis, which has been happening forever and will continue to happen forever.”

Science teacher Yanni Vourgourakis who teaches juniors and seniors said he does not mind senioritis or ditch day since he relates to the feeling of wanting to enjoy the last weeks of high school with friends.

“I don’t have strong feelings about senior ditch day,” Vourgourakis said. “At this point it seems like something students do out of a sense of obligation more than anything else. They seem to like the idea of it but I bet it is actually a pretty ordinary day in the end. I guess it is a very low-stakes way of having students feel rebellious and in control, so good for them. I have never taken [senioritis] personally because I did not mean for it to be personal when I did it as a student. It is fun to relax and enjoy the little bit of time you have remaining together with your classmates who you have gone through so much with. Those are some of my best memories of high school.”