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CSSSA in Valencia, California

When I left my family, friends, and home this July to go away for a month, I was expecting to have a great time. What I wasn’t expecting was for everything to change, from my perspective on life to my opinions about myself. But that was what happened.

Two years ago, I was looking at all the summer programs listed on the Teen Ink website. I found a few that sounded appealing, but one really stuck out me: the California State Summer School for the Arts (CSSSA). This intense, four week program was held at CalArts and was divided into seven different departments—animation, creative writing, dance, film and video, music, theater, and visual arts—and admitted 500 teenagers every year, only one-third of those who applied. It seemed perfect for me, so I decided to apply for creative writing. May came, and I got my rejection letter. I wasn’t surprised. I had written my contrived, clichéd application the week before it was due.

But that rejection made me realize how much I wanted to attend CSSSA. I decided to try again for 2012, and really try that time. So I did, spending hours on the application, editing and rewriting, choosing each word carefully, and this year, an acceptance letter came with May. It was all I could talk about for the two months leading up to CSSSA.

Early July, and I was shopping. Notebooks, pens, laundry detergent, a lamp, the lot, everything I would need for a month of writing and living in a dorm. July 14 could not come fast enough, and soon enough, on July 13, I found myself driving down I-5 towards Valencia, CalArts, and an unforgettable month. The next day, I was on campus and moved into my dorm room.

By the second day, I had made new friends. By the time CSSSA ended, I had friends who were new but felt old. I know these friends will last a lifetime. These are friends who understand me. They understand that I have stories to tell and I can’t sleep if I don’t write. They understand reading all day and they understand discussing some TV show or book for hours. They understand what it’s like to be a writer, and meeting people like that, who know you before they even meet you, is priceless and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I didn’t have any writer friends or even acquaintances before CSSSA. There, I was one of sixty-seven amazing writers.

Everyone is like that though. Everyone is passionate about something, and everyone is good at what they love, and that’s what makes the atmosphere at CSSSA so exciting. The energy made me want to go and write my novel, and I’m doing that. I’m starting my novel, something I have always been too scared to do. But I’m different now. I believe in myself and I’m inspired to go and just get it out, no matter what happens.

The teachers deserve credit for that as well. They were different than any other teacher I had ever had before. They didn’t care about grades or MLA or following the prompt exactly. What they cared about was if you were pushing yourself and if your writing was improving.

When I looked at my application on the last day of CSSSA, I cringed. I didn’t see how I had been proud of those pieces back in February. Feeling that, though, made me feel wonderful. That feeling showed exactly how much I had improved and learned over the month, and I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything, no matter how cliché that sounds.

CSSSA is over now, and I’m writing this to help me get rid of my Post-CSSSA Depression. I miss it and I miss everyone I met, but I know I’m better because of it. I’m going to stop writing this now, because it’s time to work on my novel.

But first, I want to add that I’m also writing this to encourage others to go to CSSSA. So if this sounds even remotely interesting to you, go. Go on and apply. Check it out. CSSSA.org. I guarantee it will change your life. And if you were wondering, it’s pronounced “see-suh.”



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