Photo by Nivedha Meyyappan

Senior Julia Mentz is not one for making quick decisions. She stresses daily about picking her meal in the lunch line. When asked, “How are you today?” she thinks long and hard before giving her answer. She refuses to pick just one thing to do on a Friday night, opting to make a list of five instead. But while Mentz is in no rush to make everyday choices, she promised herself to make 28 specific ones for the future. From trying out beekeeping to driving cattle, Mentz has a bucket list of these 28 (and counting) goals that she said will keep her from wasting the life she has.

“I think the measure of a life not wasted would be somebody who has learned how to live in the moment and learned how to constantly be aware of what they’re doing and the impact of their actions,” she said.

“For me,” Mentz said, “a successful life is going to be one where you pour everything into your passions and try to take every single day and make something important out of it. I think having it written down in a bucket list gives you hope. You’re forcing yourself to trust that something is going to happen.”

These 28 choices, typed as a note on her iPhone, express the life she’d like to live: They take her backpacking through the Rocky Mountains, swimming with a dozen horses, dancing in a ballroom class. While Mentz already said she prides herself in being the not-so-average 17-year-old, this list ensures she will be unique at every age.

She said, “I don’t want to go through any season of life without having cool stories come up and being able to answer the question, ‘What’s the craziest thing you’ve done recently?’ or ‘What’s the biggest impact you’ve made on the world?’ When I went to Tanzania I had no clue what I was doing. I just got online and signed up to go to Africa for a month with nobody that I knew. I thought to myself, ‘What the heck am I doing? This is ridiculous.’ And then when I was done with it, I have never been so happy that I faced a fear. I don’t want there to be any season of my life where I can’t answer what’s the craziest thing I’ve done like that.”

Photos by Nivedha Meyyappan

Math teacher Wendy Bass may be at a different stage of life, but she said she also has a few checkboxes of her own to tick. She started her own bucket list 20 years ago with the simple desire to travel outside of the country. As she began to chip away at this goal, she added more. Now her list leads her right to the Equator, stepping one foot on either side. It takes her to Alaska, hiking the trails by day and gazing at the Northern Lights by night. Once it even pushed her out of a plane, granted with a parachute and an instructor at her side.

“I’d wanted to sky dive,” Bass said. “I didn’t want to learn how to sky dive; I just wanted to experience that free-fall feeling. It was totally worth it. Best $150 I’ve ever spent. The one thing that was weird about it was when you do a tandem jump, they don’t tell you how to land until you’re floating down. They only give the instructions for what to do until the chute opens, so there’s that little part of you freaking out. It was terrifying and amazing all at the same time.”

Both women desire to complete their lists, but each has another item that she requires for a successful life. While African safaris and plane jumps may be the choices that will make their time eventful, they said a bucket list cannot ensure their time isn’t wasted.

As for Mentz, she said her life must be about savoring experiences just as much as it is about doing different activities.

She said, “I think that when I look back at my life when I’m older, I’ll probably not be thinking about the normal things I’ve done as much as the crazy experiences that I’ve had. I don’t think that when I look back, I’ll be excited that I (made) honey or that I visited six continents. It’s not really about the actual thing that I wrote down so much as the experiences I know will surround it. I think I’ll just be thankful for the opportunity to do what I want to do and thankful that the life I pictured became a possibility.”

With regard to her own life, Bass said she searches for a feeling of contentment. Depending on one’s definition, a bucket list cannot always fill this need. Instead, Bass said she finds contentment in the lives around her, in her family and in her job. Only after these things are in place does her list begin.

“I’m going to be honest, I don’t think it would make a bit of a difference if I did the things on my list or not because I’m already content. When I think of my life and that list, the list is not the whole cake. Those little things that I want to do, they’re the sprinkles and the decorations on top.”

But once they have this kind of foundation, Mentz and Bass said, a bucket list enhances the time they have left. For those looking for a similar kind of enrichment, according to Mentz and Bass, it doesn’t take much to find it.

“It’s not really about the actual thing I wrote down so much as the experiences I know will surround it.”

Senior Julia Mentz

“I think any moment you can face a fear, you are doing something productive and you’re going to grow and you’re going to learn from it,” Mentz said. “Do something that you’re scared of. Do the thing that has been nagging you lately that you know somewhere inside of you, you kind of want to do it, but you’re scared.”

Bass said she realizes many bucket lists total a high price, quickly making a goal seem impractical to achieve. To her, though, these costs are not discouraging; she said she has found that not all adventures need a plane ticket.

“Start small. Go to a restaurant, pick two things and tell the waitress to surprise you. You live in America. Even if you hate it, two hours later you’ll have a better meal. How bad can it be? So you don’t have the money to travel the world. You do have the money to wake up one day with zero plans and get in your car and drive somewhere. Where does your head take you? That’s an adventure.”

With these adventures, Mentz said she hopes her bucket list will continue its work in her life, and she will continue to check off its items. Whether that may be delivering a foal or starting an urban legend, those 28 choices are simply waiting to be made.

Mentz said, “We have just 80 years on this Earth and then who knows what happens after that? For people who believe that they just die, why wouldn’t you want to do everything you can to make a difference while you’re here? For people who believe in an afterlife, why wouldn’t you want to do everything to make these moments better? So many people can’t tell you if they’re happy or not with where they’re at in life and that’s not an emotional thing; it’s more (a question of whether) you feel like you’re really living. A bucket list reminds you that you only have so many years on Earth, and the longer you spend being scared of spontaneity or talking to strangers or making new relationships is one more second that you have wasted.”

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Brielle Saggese