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July 8, 2009 > Dear self: Remember when ...

Dear self: Remember when ...

By Lauresha Xhihani

CHESHIRE, Conn. (AP), Jun 27 _ When Bailey Quinlan received a letter from a seventh-grader just a few weeks before her scheduled graduation from Cheshire High School, she couldn't help but chuckle.

The letter, written five years ago, was from herself. ``I read it in front of my family and I was crying, I was laughing so hard,'' she said.

The younger Quinlan had written about the war in Iraq, her friends including the ones who annoyed her a trip to New York City and the importance of having her own bright-colored sense of style.

For Quinlan and the nearly 200 Cheshire High School seniors who received them, the letters from their younger selves provide some added perspective at a time in life marked with sweet memories of years past and the excitement of new beginnings.

Over the years, hundreds of Cheshire High School graduates have received these letters thanks to three dedicated Dodd Middle School teachers who have the students write them during the last few weeks of seventh grade. The teachers file the letters for five years until the month before graduation.

Carole Lutes started the letters project in 1988 after realizing that seventh-graders think they know it all and are all grown up.

``This is who I am. This is my personality,'' that's the response Lutes got from the seventh-graders.

``I'll never judge you by who you are in seventh grade,'' was her promise to them.

Lutes is retiring after 23 years at Dodd Middle School.

Two younger teachers have continued the letters project.

Kristen Shanley, herself a Cheshire High School graduate, remembers receiving the letter she wrote when she was a student of Lutes.

When she came to Dodd as a teacher, she continued the project. Maria Mullally, whom Lutes trained, picked up the tradition from Lutes in 2003.

The teachers keep the project under wraps. They promise the students that no adults will read their letters.

``I make them sign over the seal so they feel really official,'' Mullally said.

Shanley and Mullally send out nearly 200 letters to seniors, almost half of the graduating class. It's not as simple as putting stamps on the letters. Often the teachers go out of their way to track students who have moved.

Mullally said she no longer had the address of twin sisters who had moved to Virginia. So she got in touch with former students in the same class to ask if they had heard from the girls.

The students kept in touch through the social network site Facebook and passed on an e-mail address to Mullally.

The twins received the letters and communicated with Mullally through e-mail for about two weeks.

The letter project may be spreading.

Quinlan said her English literature teacher at Cheshire High School did a similar project this year for students who will be graduating from college. She said she appreciated getting the letter from seventh grade so much that she wrote a 10-pager for this latest project.

In the new letter, Quinlan wrote about her boyfriend of three years, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, her college choice and her dream of owning an art gallery.

Jason Virdi said his letter from seventh grade was just one page long. He wrote down his favorite movies: ``Lord of the Rings'' and ``Harry Potter,'' and the colleges he wanted to get into: Yale, Harvard, Princeton.

``They were pretty lofty dreams and not as attainable as I thought,'' Virdi said.

He has no regrets. He will be attending the University of Virginia with hopes of becoming an investment banker. Already he has shown his entrepreneurial side with his own computer business.

Virdi appreciated getting his letter from seventh grade.

``It's a snapshot of you written on a piece of paper,'' he said. ``It's a memory of who you used to be. It's pretty cool.''

___

Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com

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