Some Unsolicited Advice

Madeline Wong ‘17, Opinions Editor

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Senior year feels like a contradiction. I’ve spent most the year in my final months as a child, but by the time I graduate, I’ll be an adult. Sometimes I feel like a seventeen-year-old, desperate to go to college and no longer ask permission every time I want to go out with friends. But at other times I feel like a seven-year-old, preferring the simplicity of Andrew Clements novels to the stress of juggling academics, extracurriculars, and friends.

Yet, as the year goes by, despite whatever age I feel, more and more people—underclassmen, parents, even elementary school children—interrogate me for advice. What classes should I take? What clubs and extracurriculars should my son/daughter join? What’s the hardest class you’ve taken? How did you balance academics with your afterschool activities? How did you get into [insert College X]? What are your SAT and SAT subject test scores?

No matter the increasing ubiquity, these questions always catch me by surprise. Some of them are needlessly intrusive (really? SAT scores?), but most of them are earnestly inquired, as if the person asking really believes that getting good grades, or participating in a plethora of extracurriculars, or being accepted into a high-ranked competitive university, somehow makes me an authority figure on high school “success,” for lack of a better word. True, seniors are the oldest students in high school, and therefore have the most experience. Still, far be it from me to suggest to an eleven-year-old’s mother that her daughter follow a detailed, four-year schedule of classes and clubs, when my own plans didn’t even stay the same between the end of eighth-grade and the beginning of freshman year. Here is the advice on classes that I can give:

1. Math: Balance your hours. High school is more than going to school, doing your homework, and stumbling into bed for a couple hours of sleep. While we easily make time for concrete things like a school sport or the winter musical, we sometimes forget to set aside time for ourselves. There’s no award or resume category for “watching a movie” or “going on a walk,” but that doesn’t make leisure any less important in your life. So balance your working hours with free time to do whatever makes you happy.

2. Social Studies: Make and keep friendships. You probably already know this. Friends will catch you up on schoolwork when you’re sick, comfort you when it seems like nothing is going right, cheer you on when you succeed, and make high school about more than homework and college applications. But besides keeping the friends you’ve had since middle school, make new ones. The closer you get to graduation, the less important “cliques” and “friend groups” will become. You may as well skip the first three years of self-imposed categorization and make new friends early on. In particular, Ashley Yang ‘17 advises, “Don’t be afraid to reach out to upperclassmen throughout your high school experience. They seem scary at first but often become amazing friends and mentors if you talk to them.”

3. Science: Experiment often. High school encompasses four of the most formative years of your life, so you may as well spend these years, well, forming yourself. As Vikram Kalghatgi ‘17 says, “Sometimes trying new things can be challenging since it’s easy to do what we’re familiar with, but I’m glad [I] joined the forensics team. In the four years I’ve been in high school… [forensics has] substantially shaped me as an individual.” We’re fortunate to attend a school that offers hundreds of clubs, electives, sports, and activities, so you may as well take advantage. And hey, leading a diverse life certainly won’t hurt you when it comes time to apply for college.

4. English: Humanize your heroes. We all know those two or three names whispered in reverence within the halls of Ridge. Somehow they made it through high school with perfect grades and extracurriculars to boot, and now they’re flourishing at a top-tier university, seemingly effortlessly. Whether you admire intelligence, wealth, charisma, attractiveness, or humor, these are all still human characteristics. Don’t let yourself be convinced that there is a “perfect” person out there, and that you just aren’t good enough to be like him or her.

5. Foreign Language: Learn to understand different people. We all possess our own unique set of beliefs, based on those of our parents, friends, teachers, and community. At Ridge, where you’re surrounded by friends from similar backgrounds, many of these beliefs may be the same. It’s easy to become so accustomed to one point-of-view that every other belief seems illogical, and disagreements lead to fights instead of debates. Don’t let pride be the only thing that stops you from changing your beliefs.

I can’t say that any of this advice will make high school easy—for me, the last four years have felt like an eternity of six o’clock alarms and late nights. But it might make it easier—to have a friend’s shoulder to cry on, to have free time to write poetry or go hiking, to not waste time and energy pining after an impossible ideal. So brace yourself for however many more years of high school you have. I’ve heard college only gets harder.

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