Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Going Back

On Friday, I went to my high school's spring band concert. College decisions and selections are in, everyone knows what they will be doing for the summer, and life is going on. It has been almost a year since I graduated high school.

This quarter I am taking a German culture class called Germany in Five Words. The current word is Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means "working through the past." In the class it refers, of course, to the process of coming to terms with the fact that Nazism happened. But I take my coincidences where they come.

I want to investigate what it means to work through the past for me, individually, because I'm self-centered like that and I think that the narrative we tell ourselves about the past might reveal interesting things.

At the end of high school, I saw the end of sophomore year through junior year as my "turning point." I became first chair euphonium, joined band staff, took on AP Physics without the prerequisite, took on Calc BC, wrote Orsolya. I became a net exporter of mentorship.

Nowadays, unsurprisingly, I see college as the turning point, and have a difficult time, normally, remembering why anyone held me in high regard when I was in high school. What life skills did I have? The first load of laundry I ran all by myself was in the first week of fall quarter here. The first meal in which I had a more than trivial hand of preparation happened last month. Coming to college, I felt as though all my life I've been hiding deficiencies in my character and that they are coming to light one by one. Among my friends I am no longer "the smart one," I'm the one who listens well (which will no doubt shock people who knew me when), fawns over cats, and tells awful puns (that hasn't changed).

This leads to some cognitive dissonance when I come back to high school. There, I get sophomores telling me about how their AP Euro teacher is saying that no one has ever beaten my score on the final for that class, as if it is something that I should brag about. I get people asking "how's *Stanford*?" in tones for which I can see the sparkles around the name of my university.

And I cannot judge them, because in high school, was I really any different? I cared a lot about my grades. I stressed a lot over college and viewed people who went to prestigious universities with awestruck eyes. I couldn't really imagine another arc to the story; getting into a good college would be "making it." When I chose Stanford, a little over a year ago, I thought that my life was basically set.

A few weeks ago, Admit Weekend happened and campus was flooded with admitted students who were where I was a year ago. What struck me was how impressive they seemed--more impressive than most of my classmates, actually. I'm pretty sure my class didn't seem that way--but maybe we did. Maybe the reason the class of 2019 seemed more impressive was because they were more impressed with themselves, the way that the class of 2018 was impressed with itself before actually hitting campus. I've learned more humility here than I ever did in high school, and while I know that I'm capable of doing good in the world I measure myself not against the artificially low bar of high school achievement but against the impossibly high bar of what I want to do in my life.

My Admit Weekend was a fairy tale. Getting to the alumni center in the morning and finding that they had nametags for my bags. Eating lunch at Arrillaga with other admitted students, one of whom now lives on the same hall as me. Walking out of MemAud to the band playing "All Right Now." Receiving a flower from a tuba player. Eating my first dinner at Ricker dining on Thursday with Death by Chocolate. Going to a lecture on water infrastructure and walking out with my nerves dancing, knowing that I wanted to come here. Sitting in Green library and writing longhand in Ubermadchen. Waking up on the last day and seeing the flower that I had stuck in my backpack blooming. Going up Hoover Tower and looking out over the quad. Buying a jacket with the logo from the student store in Old Union. A dream. A perfect fairy-tale dream.

I love Stanford. I am happier with the person I am becoming than I am with the person I was. And I have also been more stressed, more tired, gotten less sleep, gotten injured more frequently, and felt more emotional distress here than I had before coming to college. I am ignorant and awkward and unskilled. I have not yet "made it."

I have more of a growth mindset now than I used to. I know I am not the smartest person on campus, and I'm fine with that because I know that if I work hard then I can do well. I am no one's idea of a natural people person, and I recognize that and am trying (and on occasion succeeding) to be kinder.

When I go back, I go back to a chapter that has ended. But it has just ended for me: for people still there, high school is ongoing. Many of them are, like I was, too caught up in the current arc to see the next one. I cannot say that I do not suffer from the exact same short-sightedness now. I see over high school because I am past high school. As for the rest, I am yet a work in progress. Some day, I will have done something of which to be proud.


Apologies for not posting at the end of last week. Lots of stuff going on.

1 comment:

  1. And now I am nearing the close of my college time, the mental transition between 'pre-med' and 'med school applicant' (rectangles and squares). Probably because I never really took time to visit high school and old teachers, I don't remember it well, other than four years of giggling at lunch and daydreaming about a cute boy. My old diaries are frightening to read.

    In some ways, undergrad for me has felt like a long trek up a mountain, and now I'm standing two semesters from the top, waiting for a helicopter to whisk me off to med school. I'm out of breath, light-headed, exhausted, and looking down gives me some real stomach-turning vertigo that adrenaline helps me interpret as pride. Sometimes, I feel like vomiting. Sometimes, I feel like I'm going to fall. Most of the time, now, I suppose I'm just getting my bearings again, toughing it out, waiting for my shoulder drill sergeant to tell me to keep going.