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A Letter to a High School Underclassman

Dear Underclassman,

Today’s society offers many roads to success. There is the traditional route, where success is based on a degree and a high paying job. Creatives give life to a seemingly bland day-to-day and inspire the imaginations of people everywhere. Entrepreneurs are allowed the freedom of being their own bosses and a platform to leave their mark on the world. Perhaps you will be the one to pack up what you need, sell all that you do not, and hit the road on a grand adventure. With so many options, there is no list of steps that guarantee that you will be accomplished in all you do. Even so, I will offer this token of advice: take high school seriously, even if you do not dream of going to an Ivy.

The lessons you learn in high school extend far beyond the reaches of a traditional classroom. The most meaningful lessons are found in the early mornings when it is easier to sleep in than to get ready for the day. They are found in the activities we pick up on a whim, and the ones we drop just as fast. There is more to a chemistry test, a book report, or a few laps in gym class then meets the eye. High school is a time to learn the basics of life; it is a time to dive into yourself and start to figure out what is important to you. You will not look back and think that high school was the best time of your life, but it will certainly be the most carefree.

There is a misconception that I earned my way into Harvard by locking myself in the library and studying for hours and hours on end. That my idea of a fun Friday night was one spent reading books or doing math problems (mainly false, though I am definitely not opposed to a good book). At the end of the day, you have to pass your classes to graduate; studying will always be an integral part of the process. However, that does not mean that you have to take every AP class offered, nor does it mean that it is better to float through with little to no effort put in at all. In order to be a productive member of society, you have to have some knowledge of how the world works. If you do nothing in high school, you are sadly selling yourself short.

This is the time to take the more difficult classes, to try out an odd club, to participate in class tournaments, or say hello to someone outside your crowd. Because high school is a time where you have all the freedom to say “yes,” and then change your mind later. Maybe you have an unknown interest in biology, a knack for writing, or a great voice for public speaking. Maybe you will discover a hidden talent in basketball, or, if there is a lack of skill, the drive to continue to show up to practice. I did not get accepted to Harvard because I was an all-star student with a particularly impressive application, I got in because I figured out that high school was just life in a bubble. If you want something that badly, do it.

Whichever path you choose, the little lessons learned in high school will end up having a large impact. One day you will have to wake up for an early job, meeting, or obligation and know the folly of “five more minutes.” Your time at sport practices will show you just how much of an impact one more rep, lap, or shot can have. English lessons will be put to use when you write an email to an elected official or stand up for the things you are passionate about. You may look at the present and see the similarities in the past. You cannot get out of going to school, so you may as well get the most out of your time there. As a senior about to accept her diploma this evening, I offer one last piece of advice: do not be a supporting character in your own narrative. High school and life beyond will be whatever you make it.


High school soon-to-be graduate, Caitlin Cowell

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