Summer is a time of new beginnings for any cheer squad. Senior members have graduated and are looking forward to the next chapters of their lives; new cheerleaders are trying out and joining the team; and squads choose the captains who will lead them in pumping up the crowd at games and competitions. Being a captain is a big responsibility and honor. It's also a position that not every cheerleader can hold.

At the end of my junior year, our squad's only senior member and captain was graduating, with two junior assistants to be promoted to full captainship as seniors. Our first practice of the summer was when we would vote for the third captain. I could hardly contain my excitement. Aside from the two assistants who would be captains, I was the only senior cheerleader who had been a part of the squad since freshman year. I hoped that my commitment to the squad and the fact that it was my last season would earn the captain vote. Scribbling my name on my ballot was practically better than the fact that finals were behind me.

Our coaches tallied up the votes and made the announcement during the break halfway through practice. The third captain position went to a girl a year behind me.

I remember standing in the gym, the summer heat already triumphing over the lack of air conditioning in early June, reeling from the announcement and realizing belatedly that I should be joining the rest of my squad in applauding our new captain. The least enthusiastic clapping of my cheer career followed.

It was hard to be happy for her, even though I knew that she had been cheering since she was little and would bring a lot of experience to the squad as captain. Knowing that my top-choice college didn't have a competition squad, I knew that this would be my last year as a cheerleader. My teammates were the ones who voted, and I was torn between respecting their decision and hurting from it.

Certainly I am not the only senior cheerleader not to make captain. Some squads only have one captain, which must be an even more difficult choice to make, and which can leave many more cheerleaders disappointed. However, it's important to remember that our teammates who do make captain are still our teammates. It's OK to be disappointed, but we can't hold our friends' captainships against them. A squad is a like a family, and every member has an important part to play.

To keep myself from getting too bummed out over the vote, I found other ways to channel my feelings about the captain position that summer. I made playlists of girl-power songs I could totally picture myself starring in the music video of and rocked out; I marathoned my favorite movies with my best friends; and, of course, I busted my butt at practice making sure that I wouldn't have any regrets about my senior year on the squad.

If I could go back and talk to my 17-year-old self, I would assure her that not making captain wasn't the end of the world like she thought. I would tell her that she wasn't any less of a leader without the title and that she would be able to set a great example for the freshmen just by being a dedicated senior. I would let her know that she'd be laughing and joking with the new captain without a trace of bitterness sooner than she thought. I would tell her that the next year was going to be a blast, and there were lots of good memories to be made. I'd hold back the super exciting spoiler that her squad would win the first place trophy at a competition before she graduated.

"Before you know it," I would say, "you will be the senior graduating on to the next chapter of her life, and you will look back and have nothing but fond memories of your team. Cheering will have been a good experience, whether you made captain or not."

It's tough at first, but not being captain doesn't mean the squad can go on without you. It's important to focus on being the best teammate you can be and making the most of your time as part of the squad. You can't spell "cheerleading" without the word "lead," after allevery member of the squad has the opportunity to inspire. Go into the new fall season ready to be awesome.