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The Spirit of Education

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Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Panic. The thoughts of every incoming high school freshman seem to revolve mostly around these and other nervous feelings. My personal experience was no different. The sense of impending doom that accompanies the beginning of this four-year journey of education and development is simply too much for a young mind to handle. The transition between middle school and high school comes suddenly and without warning; it is as if I woke up one morning and immediately felt the pressures of the adult world. The responsibilities and expectations began to weigh down upon me, intrusive and unwelcome. The four years most spend in high school are often referred to as “the best years of your life,” but for many, the stress of having to grow up and to deal with burdens and problems the pre-teen mind could never even conceive can make high school seem like a form of punishment worse than prison. However, most freshmen will find, just as I did, that these issues seem to fade and disappear after… oh, the first few weeks of school. I began to grow into this thing called high school, developing routines and habits, making friends, relating to both peers and elders in ways that dramatically improved my high school experience.

During the summer following my eighth grade year, I was no stranger to these aforementioned negative and scary feelings. On the first day of my high school career, as I wandered through the halls and wondered whether I’d survive the week, it started to become clear to me; I wasn’t expected to simply grow up overnight, to know all the answers while I still lacked the experiences. Once I came to accept this notion, and to understand that high school wasn’t at all as frightening as it was threatened to be, I was able to make my freshman year—and the years following it—some of the best times of my life.

As a fourteen year-old English student, I knew little of the world beyond the five-paragraph persuasive essay. As you can imagine, managing to uphold decent grades in an honors level English class seemed like an impossible feat to me. But, with a lot of hard work, and a little bit of faith in myself and my teacher, I began to develop my own writing style; a style that wasn’t based on a carefully calculated formula. I’ll never forget that day in freshman English, as Ms. Frydenborg passed out copies of Homer’s Iliad. We could feel the nervousness and tension build in the room. My peers and I were between fourteen and fifteen years old, and our literary experiences up to that point had consisted only of books by Judy Blume and Gary Paulsen. How could we be expected to read an entire epic account of a tale that had been originally translated from Greek? Was our teacher insane? But, we ignored our gut instincts to drop the book and run, and most of us stuck with it. With a little help from each other (and quite a bit of help from Ms. Frydenborg), we found that reading it wasn’t as difficult as we had anticipated. We even wrote some very insightful and comprehensive pieces in response to Homer’s work, and discovered that our educations were meant to extend far beyond diagramming sentences and completing countless pages in grammar workbooks. We each began our journeys to becoming real writers.

At the start of sophomore year, the mood of the Honors English class was hopeful; we had survived freshman English, what couldn’t we accomplish now? But, as we settled into our alphabetically assigned seats and started to remember what the previous years’ sophomores had shared with us—that Mr. Serenbetz was a grammar-Nazi, and that he graded his essays in an impossibly difficult way—the nerves we had felt the year before began to creep back into the pits of our stomachs. But, once again, we learned to ignore these negative emotions and to simply believe in ourselves and our abilities as students. Looking back, my sophomore year was a chance for me to further improve and develop my personal writing style, and to learn a great deal of information through literature and art that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. In many ways, Mr. Serenbetz provided me with a basis of knowledge that still helps me today, in places beyond my English classes. His class is where I first learned that the principles of the Enlightenment were order, balance and harmony; concepts that I apply to my own existence to the best of my ability. Before Mr. Serenbetz, I had never experienced the works of Shakespeare, Pope, Donne—authors whose works are as important to me now as Judy Blume once was.

By the time junior year rolled around, my writing style and abilities were considerably more developed than they had been at the start of high school, and I was confident that I would do well in Mr. Bergman’s class—I could already tell that his teaching style greatly complemented my preferences as a student. Mr. Bergman’s English class was one of my favorite educational experiences, not just in high school, but in my entire career as a student. To this day, I can remember almost every work we discussed, every project we completed, every poem we read. Mr. Bergman had an amazing ability to show us how the works we studied in school applied to our own lives; he was one of the best teachers I had ever had a chance to work with, and he was certainly one of my personal favorites. Our examination and interpretation of Curtis White’s The Spirit of Disobedience has remained with me, and I still discuss it regularly with a number of the people in my life. Mr. Bergman also had us complete a number of projects while we were members of his class. Two of these projects still stick out in my mind. Toward the beginning of the year, we were to pick an artist—some of which were authors, others were photographers and even painters and architects—whose works we would study and explain to the class. I chose David Foster Wallace, an accomplished novelist and essayist, most famous for his novel Infinite Jest. I read many of Wallace’s essays, portions of Infinite Jest, and a number of his other works. I held many of his convictions to be true, and found many similarities between Wallace and myself. I appreciated both his intelligence and his sense of humor, and I continued to read his works even after junior year ended. When David Foster Wallace died in 2008, I was able to speak to Mr. Bergman about his achievements and abilities, and about how upsetting his death was to each of us. Another project we were expected to complete for Mr. Bergman was an independent book project; each student would select a book to read, and after reading it we would complete a number of assignments to accompany it. I chose Kerouac’s On the Road. Not only did this novel teach me a great deal about the human experience, it inspired me to look further into the concepts of youth and transience, and to read works by some other authors of the Beat Generation. On the Road remains one of my favorite novels to date, and I hope to one day take a trip similar to that of the one described in the novel. Junior year English class was an experience in education that I will never forget; it provided me with more lessons than I can describe, and it prepared me not only for further education, but for life in the real world.

Now a senior in high school, I devote much of my time to reflection and reminiscence. To consider how much I have grown as a student and a person in the past three or more years is amazing to me; I have made friends not only with my peers, but with my teachers as well. I have experienced amazing things, read many powerful works, and written a number of essays that I am proud of not only for the time I spent on them, but also because I feel that they are true reflections of myself and my intellect. I hope to be able to continue on this path that I have set out on, and to find more reasons to be proud of myself as both a student and a human being. I have even further developed my personality and opinions in my time spent in Ms. Wickam’s UConn English class. Thanks to authors such as Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood and Robert Penn Warren, I have learned the importance of such abstract concepts as love, experience, compassion and contribution. I have discovered that a relationship between individuals and their communities is absolutely essential to human development, and I have learned to contribute to my own community in a way that makes me proud to be the person that I am.

Now that I am eighteen years old and facing college and the real world, the nervous feelings of an incoming high school freshman are beginning to return to me. This time, though, I face them not with a sense of doom, but with a sense of hope; I am confident that my time spent in high school, the experiences and opportunities I have been presented with, and the person I have become are all attributes that have prepared me to flourish in whatever communities I may become a part of in the future. I have become an optimist; someone who is happy with not only myself, but with those around me, and I hope to both contribute to and take all that I can from the world based on these notions.





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