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I spent a lot of my freshman year in high school skulking around corners and observing the tangible life force around me. There was something I couldn’t quite harness, like I was the smudging shadow at the corner of the page and the words spread out before me were suspended in a dimension outside my own. The times that I wasn’t observing, I was pummeling down hallways at warp speed to get to my next class.
Around the end of freshman year, I suppose I caught the harnessing line. And somewhere between an instant and blinking my eye I was at the battle front of this force. The comfortable dimensions of middle school had melted with the social strata of high school. Priorities became technical. And I could no longer hold the phoenix like quality to feel reborn at the close of the day. The responsibilities formed a chain, and I could never quite break them loose…
Every step I take is one step closer to “structuring” my future. My faded simplistic observations such as the blurry stars of the Atlanta skyline and the Marta stations pin pointing metro Atlanta are more than land markers. They serve as future indications. Where am I going to be? Am I going to be sitting somewhere along the blurry stars of the skyscrapers—perched on a modern couch and swirling in chic sophistication? Will I be racing along subways with no particular direction other than bouncing along the fluctuation of changing stock prices and one drained espresso cup after another?
External factors that were out of my reach changed the mold of my lenses. I no longer saw through the eyes I once had. My vision was wrinkled with expectations. Although none were neither good nor bad, they were all turbulent. Earlier in the year, the college fair was held inside our high school cafeteria. When I walked inside the cloistered room, I felt irritatingly overwhelmed by the lack of space. The bright banners and the shiny faces of college representatives beamed with chance and yet I felt the creeping sensation that I wasn’t enough.
A recent article I’d read mentioned the unbelievable work hours that Korean students put into a normal day in order to attend brand name Ivy league schools. Another article provided the skeleton of the perfect, and yet flawed, student. Let me give you the profile of perfection: 1. she ran a school wide function that raised a serious amount of money for a charity; 2. she has perfect SAT scores; 3. she does an overwhelming number of extracurricular activities and is in the top quintile of her graduating class. 4. she is a natural born leader. But she does not get into the school of her choice, and here I am, surrounded by schools boasting excellence, but is what I have to offer any different?
As I mentioned before, my perspective is wrinkled. It is weathered by time and the mounting chain of responsibility that assumes the monstrous figure of: “The Future.” My own habits are laced with the fear that I might not meet my parent’s expectations. It is a revelation for me to see the hard work that went into my own upbringing thanks to my family. The moral compass they forged as my principles were crafted by their own experiences. And, like any parent, their concern is that I might not be able to provide for myself and might never find happiness. For many in my community, the challenge of today is obtaining a job with financial security. An Indian party from a long time ago surfaces to my memory when I start thinking about my aspirations. After the formalities were filtered out, the all encompassing college topic came up between an auntie and myself. I stood awkwardly, dodging the questions with artful evasiveness. I was preparing myself for the kicker, the “career” inquiry. When she asked, I mumbled a slur of words, “journalism” and “writing” were the only articulate parts of my rambling. Though the sentence wasn’t particularly coherent, her ears, fine tuned to the common jobs of financial security, detected that they were not on my list.
Her eyebrows furrowed and she asked, “No medicine?” As if on cue, all I could say was that it was not necessarily a point on my horizon. I thought the conversation would end there, but she replied, “You have plenty of time to change your mind.” Now, I could have had a number of reactions. I could flare up at the insinuation that the bridge between reality and my goals is painfully flimsy and idealistic. I could haughtily turn up my nose and comment that money is not the problem for me…but the argument of time was oddly refreshing. In fact, it put a lot of questions into perspective.
What could I do with my time? I could spend it on online Kaplan courses to bring my scores to just the right notch. I could get in touch with my inner Yoga man and learn the art of calmness that has so far never come into contact with my personality. I could sift through the myriad of opportunities that lay just inches from my fingers. Or I could amass my priorities into a cohesive goal. But, I think the major question was being able to be comfortable with myself. I know it sounds like something out of a self-help novel, but how can I plan a future when my own character is weathered by time, ironed by principles and stretched on a time table?
There was the college question, and it preyed on my brain mercilessly. But, success is not delegated to an environment. And I know that even if you don’t get into the school of your “wildest dreams,” a letter of rejection or even of acceptance doesn’t define the person that you are. And, corny as it sounds, it’s comforting to define oneself within the parameters of would be-rationale. I doubt the Dean of Admissions can see through my head (dark hair is good to bar transparency) and know just what potential bubbles within me. By the same token, I don’t think perfection says anything about a person. A week ago, I sent an e-mail to a University of Chicago student, asking her about the competitiveness of the admission process. I didn’t expect she’d respond, so I inquired whether or not I should show up to the campus juggling, riding a unicycle and holding the cure for cancer between my teeth. She, much to the demise of my ego, responded. She said that there was a heavy emphasis placed on the essay because it was the way the school could get to know you the best—and with that response, I was satisfied.
High school, while far from the Gossip Girl’s version of constant deceit and manipulation, is not that different from the shedding of identity that seems to take place on a continual basis. My freshman year I had extremely close friends. They knew the ins and outs of my character, the flaws of my personality, my every dream and aspiration. They knew where my birth mark was. They knew the choices I would make in a given situation. But, maybe it was the massive space between the buildings. Or the lunch period precariously positioned between a major test and an upcoming project. Or the groups and teams that stemmed from of our individual personalities. All I know is that I came into this school surrounded with the uniform faces of my youth, and left with a patchwork of smiles around me. There is an unpronounced social stratum, and a certain degree of decorum that marks high school social events. But within the swirling structure of social lives, I had felt incongruously misplaced. My priorities fell within different definitions, and in high school I’ve felt more loss than a sense of gain. In fact, this acute sense of loss is probably what has ironed the lenses of my perspective.
Experience falls within a myriad of terms. It’s the highlight of my high school career. I've had moments where I've felt that every moment spent has been a waste. There are days at a time where I'm confident that the skills I have acquired are enough to prepare me for "the real world." And then there are those minutes silvered with nostalgia, where I'm debating the future in my 7 year old form. I wonder if the smudged crayon marks I left on my Dr. Seuss book is the result of my brain's calculated movements to preserve a certain amount of reckless creativity. I chant "green eggs and ham" when I'm on walks in suburbia just to see if I can remember the rest of the words.
I think about the students swallowing fish oil pills to get higher scores on their exams, or the endless hours poured into perfection, and I envy their work ethic and I pity what I sometimes see as narrow perspective. There is a haunting ephemeral quality to life, it is what shapes our experiences and provides a template for what we see as growth. A lot of the times I try to scapegoat peer pressure or parental expectations as a reason why I performed poorly on a test or failed to recognize that I'd hurt another person by what I'd done. But in the end, I have no one to blame but myself. The moments I called personal weakness take the shape of human error. And the moments I call strength, take the shape of maturity.