A High School Senior Reflects on College Acceptance
December 17th, 2017
College acceptance. An objective synonymous with the all-golden promise of American success. At my school, college is the finish line in a marathon tumultuous enough to put even the most self-assured, self-confident person through a specialized, personalized type of hell. The kind of hell that makes you question the very essence of who you are. The kind of hell that teaches you, through every jab and stab that you are not just defined by your goodness: you are also the inner demons that eat at you for not being something, or someone, else. Every day, every class, every homework assignment, every quiz and every exam is a reflection of how capable you have become to accept and overcome challenges. You become chiseled away by the invisible sculptor of your failures.
When everyone around you is in the same boat, you quickly begin to realize that some will weather the tempest better than you. Or so you assume. Simply put, you know who is getting the good grades, who is a leader, who is an award-winning athlete, who decides the social agenda, and who does all of those things at once. You know who has an internship where, who has had a padded resume since freshman year, who has won what competitions and who has scored how high on the SATs. High school on its own is a daunting experience. Overlay that with the constant pressure to get good excellent grades in a school where it is often a Sisyphean struggle to do so, and you’ve got the recipe for a mental health disaster. The “college acceptance” doctrine becomes ingrained in you. Every failure is echoed by a voice that whispers: You are not enough. Your peers are. But you are not. So why would a college like [insert institution] want you? Your transcript may or may not reflect those voices, and the extent to which this reflection occurs becomes a measure of self worth.
As a senior, I am reminded of the parts of me that have been chiseled away. I am reminded, as I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the classroom door windows, that I am not the same person I was, and that there’s beauty in that. I was a neurotic A+ student through ninth grade. Midway through tenth grade, I was jarred by burnout or what felt like a mental breakdown. It was actually this breakdown, an academic manifestation of “rock bottom” that forced me to accept that desire to do well was not always going to be equivalent to doing well. The factors varied: a knee injury that made me quit sports, expectations from myself and my family to succeed as an immigrant in this country, a flawed mindset of perfectionism that resulted in anxiety when I even mildly thought of school and the possibility of disappointment... I was in a vicious cycle of tearing down any resemblance of self confidence or faith, by my own very self. Like Ophelia, I was pulled to the bottom of a murky stream in which disappointment and self hatred were plenty. An 80 on a chemistry test became a 65 in my mind, which caused a visceral sense of panic when I even mildly thought of covalent or ionic bonds and then realized I still had no idea how they worked. This anxiety was counterproductive to my studying, and made my next test grade in chemistry an actual 75; sitting through class became an emotional roller coaster. I knew something had to change because I was reaching my limits. The walls were closing in on me, my unwritten term paper laughed at me as I looked at my blank computer screen, and every comment I made in class discussions seemed to echo with mediocrity. My mental and emotional circuits were fried, and my academic outlook needed a system reboot.
Transcendence. A way to rising above. It came when I realized the vital need to redefine what education was going to mean to myself and my life. Education was no longer going to be the reason why I hated myself. Education was no longer going to be a source of excessive anxiety. It wasn’t going to be what kept me up at night as I obsessively fretted over lost test points. Education, the privilege that it is, was finally going to be treated as such.
I came to understand that, to really learn, I had to appreciate the art of learning for what it truly is. This meant prioritizing my curiosity, pursuing my passions when they came alive, and exploring all that there is to know about the world and its people, cultures, languages, arts and traditions. I realized that while, yes, points and grades are important (they are the feedback system between yourself and your teacher or mentor), they should not be important to you because they are a part of college acceptance. Asking good questions and gaining a wider perspective on the world are what should matter.
Transcendence came when I understood the magnificent potential in the information I was studying. That one day, maybe tomorrow or maybe in five years, I will be using my knowledge to engage in conversation and culture, to understand current events, and to teach others. Going to high school in my most formative years meant that I was taught skills and character traits I’ll be using to aid myself, and more importantly, society, for the rest of my life.
My academic transcendence garnered a fresh outlook I have on this country’s institutions of higher education, and how my own failures play into the college acceptance process. I believe that college acceptance should not be the purpose of academic existence. Instead, it is a continuation of what is hopefully to be a lifelong process of understanding our own role, however tiny it may be, in the infinitely vast, spinning cosmos that we live in. And when we define education by what we can grasp solely through curriculum, testing, and grading, we abuse our duty to be informed citizens of the world. In turn, it is abuse to ourselves when we tarnish the beauty that education can have on us; the power it has to strip away ignorance and hate, through perceived failures or shortcomings. Failure is a crucial component to education, and we need to celebrate it within ourselves as such.
Transcendence to me was accepting my mistakes, empowering myself to understand them, and flourishing because of them.
As students, we need to accept that perfection does not yield growth. But growth can bring us one step closer to getting there.