Rambling reflections on high school


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Graduations remains a sentimental time, even in quarantine.

Dear Reader,

I’ve wanted to write this article for a really long time. As a buoyant underclassman, I remember rehearsing the sage words I would offer as a weathered senior, the impossible advice I would dole out that I would only seem to understand myself. And now that I finally have the credibility to write some magnum opus about high school, I genuinely have no idea what to say.

Most days of the week, I’d tell you that my high school experience was pretty darn great. I’ve met so many wonderful people and learned so much more than I ever thought I’d be interested in knowing. But I’ve also felt an inexplicable emptiness at times, probably brought about by media projections of how much reckless “fun” I should have been having.

I never partied hard in high school, snuck out or did anything that mainstream American media would probably define as the real “high school experience.” That’s definitely bothered me a little at times, especially because media depictions are maybe the only concrete metric I’ve had to relatively evaluate my time. But besides all that noise, I know for certain that there have been so many times when I’ve been so purely happy in high school: editing pages during late nights in 1205, walking to Peet’s after school and those simple, stolen conversations during the lulls of class. I know that I might not be able to say anything remotely applicable to you, because I don’t know the intricacies of your life, but I’d like to ruminate anyway; maybe you’ll think I’m wise or something.

I moved to San Ramon during middle school; for some reason, my parents had complete faith in San Ramon’s vastly superior education system, compared to, say, Fremont (lol). I entered Dougherty expecting the worst: a cutthroat environment where everyone was vying for admissions and awards. Probably because I was subconsciously looking for this, I did find it. I glimpsed the inner workings of paper clubs, stupidly difficult classes and futile competition. Almost everything I did stressed me out my freshman year — academics, sports, clubs — and I was so afraid of quitting that I didn’t think about why I wanted to in the first place. And consequently, I shut myself off to exciting possibilities, instead focusing on a rigid, arbitrary path I’d laid out in my head. 

But finally gaining the resolve to quit things that didn’t make me happy is possibly the best thing I’ve done in high school. I started high school playing on the tennis team and competing in speech and debate; I don’t do anything remotely related to those now, and I’m so much better for it. I think it’s vain, and defeating, to feel stuck during high school. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is just to let things go: if your aspirations and interests never change, neither can you. 

I think growing out of my tiger phase so quickly left me with a mild distaste for all active competition, probably brought on by some measure of guilt for engaging with it in the past. And I know that everyone you’ve met at Dougherty, probably mostly upperclassmen, has philosophized this “stress-culture.” I always hated hearing variations of the phrase “It’s what you make of it,” because that’s such an obvious directive; it’s useless. So I’m not going to preach that to you. I think that rather than actively searching for your perfect niche at Dougherty, it’s completely okay to stumble around until you find comfort, whatever that is for you. 

So many people at Dougherty, myself included, are suspended in this contradiction of recognizing the ridiculousness of all of Dougherty’s competitive systems, but still craving their rewards. This is what makes Dougherty so interesting, and instead of focusing on being completely clean and consistent all the time, I think it’s exciting to explore this ambiguity. Whatever you end up being or doing in high school is genuinely okay, as long as you are somewhat sincere to yourself. Whether you choose to engage or disengage in the Dougherty chaos, it’s absolutely fine. High school is such a small fraction of our lives that you’ll likely end up changing at some point anyway.

And recognizing that most of your classmates and many of your teachers are probably grappling with these same thoughts in their own ways makes for such a diverse intellectual landscape. The best thing you can do is be open to these new conversations. Everyone has something to say, and a lot of it is extremely interesting. I’ve stumbled on so many of my favorite friendships from random conversations and experiences late in high school, so be patient that this will happen to you, and be open to the entire process. 

Inevitably, there will be some very strange phenomena that will hit you during your time at Dougherty: college-mania is one of them. I’ll admit that college was often at the back of my mind during high school, and while I don’t love that in retrospect, I think it’s okay. However you choose to engage with this entire process, whether you’re meticulous and absurdly informed, or passive and carefree, it’s really not a big deal. I think that the best thing you can do is be patient and accommodative with yourself because overly engineering your feelings toward a strange process is probably not healthy. 

And I will say, college, and most things in high school, are really not as big of a deal as you might think they are. The moment I was rejected from my supposed dream school hurt, but it faded eventually. And the moment I got into another college was awesome, but that also faded. The best moments of your high school experience will be the most ordinary ones, so don’t hold out for what you think is momentous. After getting rejected, waitlisted and accepted, I feel like I’m largely the same person, and I think it’s probably disappointing to expect that an arbitrary notice from a strange institution will magically change everything for you, nor should it. 

Honestly, I’ve absolutely loved high school. I think I’ve evolved so much as a person and had some of the most fulfilling moments I can ask for. It’s an objectively strange journey, one I’ve both denounced and reveled in, and that’s such a fascinating permutation. I’m truly very sad to leave it all behind, but so immensely excited about what it will hold for you. So just relax, have fun, and try to enjoy the ride. You’ll be fine, I promise.