Pexels user Oleg Magni
Ryan’s right: we are overwhelmed. We are stuck in a cyclical rat race, a desireless drive to climb every rung on the ladder until our heads bump into the cold, hard concrete of this arbitrary ceiling that we constructed for ourselves. We push ourselves to our physical, functional limits. We stack time-devouring sports upon mind-breaking AP classes upon rigorous academic clubs until we’ve built an impassable mountain of commitments and responsibilities. We lose sleep, we lose health and we lose control.
Personally, I am overwhelmed. I realized this only this past year, but I’ve been overwhelmed for long before then, even as far back as my eighth grade “Accelerated Earth Sciences” class. That was the first class I struggled heavily in, where I earned my first 65 and where I learned to toil night after night in pursuit of that gold-gilded A. I fought tooth and nail to watch my grade tick higher and higher until it passed that 92.5 threshold, expecting to receive some infusion of mystical power or maybe some ancient scroll of unattainable knowledge.
Only later did I realize I’d been duped. The worst part is, I’d duped myself. Like Ryan, I had too much going on. I’d come back from seven hours of school to go to basketball practice for two hours and then practice the cello for another two, finishing off my 13-year-old day by studiously examining the magnificent joys of tectonic plates and air circulation patterns. I lost control of my life, diving into binges and late nights to compensate for an unmanageable lifestyle. I should’ve been enjoying my naive adolescence. I should’ve been valuing the arts and athletics as an experiential escape from pragmatic life, not another checkbox on my daily to-do list.
If I could go back, I would not have accepted and endured such rigors of my middle school life. Yet while this “over-scheduled culture and lifestyle” definitely negatively harmed my health, I did indeed receive certain benefits from this rigor I am only now just recognizing.
Like most freshmen, I felt daunted by the prospect of high school, but the toil of eighth grade science taught me critical skills that made the transition significantly easier. Most importantly, I learned how to not only listen in class but comprehend, record and apply academic concepts, a skill I would’ve had to learn in higher-stakes high school had I not done so earlier.
As we seniors move closer and closer toward graduation in June, we will need to once again turn the page to the next chapter of life by transitioning from high school to college. Here, I noticed another effect of such “preparatory rigor” that is unique not to me but to WHS as a whole.
Our school ranks in the top 10 in Massachusetts, the state itself a beacon of secondary education in America. Though university is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, the rigors of WHS have gifted us all with above-average work ethics, critically questioning minds, and a foundational academic understanding that we are most fortunate to have. Compared to the middle line, we will not need to struggle as hard or learn as much to reach the floor of our potential. In terms of ceilings, we ourselves control how high up we will climb.
This idea of “preparatory rigor” can be applied to most every stage in life. If we front-load our stress, our pain, we grow experientially and become better equipped to handle that same stress and pain when our responsibilities escalate and our societal roles expand. It is a forward-thinking concept that by no means excuses our overloaded American youth but rather provides a silver lining to this problematic culture; though it’s neither perfect nor preferable, it offers us some level of control. We can’t revolutionize the culture all at once, but we can take what we can get.