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Coping with High School

To whom it may concern,

For a long time, I have debated on whether or not I should probe this issue. The reason for this is simple: not many students want to divulge themselves in confronting this problem. But it has come to my attention that if I don’t venture on this discussion now, I may lose an opportunity to be of assistance to a friend or classmate. So it is with this in mind that I write this letter, and I deeply hope that it may be of help to at least one individual in his or her time of need.

High school is often portrayed in a light of two extremes: it’s either a place where the possibilities are endless or it’s a desolate abyss that denies you success despite your every attempt. For far too long have these widely accepted views persisted in the minds of students, and it is precisely these perceptions that often cause unnecessary stress or problems. But without a confrontation of this problem, a student no matter where he or she is will continue to suffer. Thus, there is a need to remedy the harms caused by these unfair outlooks of high school, and there is a need to remedy them now.

Let’s look at the first portrayal of high school: a time of boundless potential. Most people have had this idea drilled into their heads from their toddler days, and that goes for me as well. When I was in elementary school, a movie called High School Musical came out. (Yes. I watched it. Don’t judge me. I know you watched it too.) The basic premise of this movie was that, a high school student, no matter who he or she was, could achieve anything if he or she set his or her mind to it. Essentially, the movie propagated the life of the all-rounder who could manage all of his or her coursework, go on to succeed in multiple sports teams, and place at high-level academic competitions. The movie went viral among my classmates at the time, and from that moment onward, many of them became obsessed with living the “High School Musical” life.

But this approach to high school before even attending it is insane. On average, high school ends at 3pm. For most students, that will mean 2 hours of sports practice right after school, along with an hour long trip back home. After eating dinner and finishing 3 to 4 hours of coursework, be it homework or test prep, it’s already 10pm. If a student is in an academic club, be it competitive math or debate, that means even more work to do into the night. In order to truly succeed at being the all-round type that is paraded in Hollywood teen propaganda, blood, sweat, and tears have to be shed just to keep up at this pace for an entire year, let alone a semester. On top of this, summers often have to be spent either preparing for the next academic year or engaging in competitive activities, be it internships or competitions, just to stay atop the game. Yet in High School Musical, students conveniently go onto prestigious Ivy League institutions after spending an entire summer dancing, singing, and feuding over relationships at a spa resort.

To send this type of message to unsuspecting children is preposterous. Telling an individual to live 4 years and have the best time of their life while also telling them to complete coursework, standardised tests, extra-curricular activities at the highest level is irony at its best. Thus my first message to you is this: don’t get hyped up for a gleeful 4 years. Scrap the idea of the model student, for they are a rarity. And if you happen to be one of these model students, try to help out your fellow classmates, for you are a lucky individual. But for the 99% of you, don’t go into high school trying to live up to these unreasonable demands. They will only serve to harm you.

However, many students have already gone into high school with this mindset, and it is possible that many of those students are already on their way to graduating in a few months. To them, I wish to discuss the harms caused by the second perception of high school: a purgatory of constant disappointments. In order to truly understand this pain, a student will probably have to be at least in his or her junior year. This is because from junior year onward is when issues such as course grades, standardised testing, and extra-curricular activities become truly daunting.

To put it simply, many students in their junior or senior year will be beating themselves up. Whether it be a low grade in a few courses, a 3 in an AP exam, or the fact that he or she didn’t become the leader of a club, these disappointments and barriers often times pile up and leave that student in distress about his or her future. It’s saddening to see a student question his or her self-worth over a relatively low SAT score. But it’s hard not to react this way. After all, we have been exposed to the idea of the model student and the prestigious colleges that student gets accepted to.

I also cannot yet give a concrete answer as to how to cope with the devastation of loss. Whenever I see a friend becoming dismayed after losing out at another competition or try out, I often times can’t seem to find the right words to comfort him or her. After all, I am also coping with loss every now and then in my own struggles to stand out.

But what I do know is that, although it may not be the answer, the first step to reconciling yourself with these disappointments is to embrace what is going right in your life. Whenever I find myself in one of those runs of bad luck and frustration, I try to remind myself what I am capable of and what’s going right for me. Although it may not seem much, this effort to be proud of yourself can help when you are in times of stress, be it a week full of summative exams or a weekend bombarded by extra-curricular activity demands, as it serves as self-acknowledgement of the good you can do.

As for those who have never really found this anchor of hope, students who have never tasted success, trying to find ways to bring yourself back to shore from the ocean of broken dreams may seem hard or even impossible. To this I have only one answer: keep on trying. This may sound like a useless answer, but it is one that is imperative. Although you don’t have to attain a level of excellence like that of the model student, that doesn’t mean that you should be content with an F in a subject. Although you don’t have to strive for perfection, you should at least try to reach a level where you will be content with yourself. The saying “A bad run for a good student can be overcome with effort” should be changed to “A bad run for any student can be overcome with effort”. Each student should still try and perform to the best of their abilities, even if that result is not one of a model student.

Ultimately, what you must do is find balance in your life. For those entering high school or in their first year, don’t get your hopes up too high in expectation of a fraudulent reality. But at the same time, you shouldn’t beat yourself over a few missed chances, for results of colleges or test grades don’t decide who you are as a person. However, this doesn’t mean you should stop trying, for you should continue to work hard in respect for yourself and the potential you have. The simple fact of the matter is that this balance remedies the harms caused by the polarising perceptions of high school as stated in the beginning of this letter. Instead of striving to become a model for others, become a model for yourself and be satisfied with what you have done, for there are many things that you should be proud of.

Best Regards,

Ye Chan Song

Featured Image by Ye Chan Song

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