The Summer Before Our Fall

A woman looking at a configuration of mountains called the “Sleeping Chief” sits on a rock near the Appalachian Nat’l Scenic Trail.

Dear esteemed reader,
It’s been a hectic summer between junior and senior year. Things seem to change so fast. I’m sure you hear that a lot.

There’s something compelling about watching juniors and seniors transform through the years. Perhaps it’s something about seeing the future of our nation before they reach full maturity. Trust me, even though we may seem mature, we still have a long way to go.

Anyways, during my oh-so-hectic summer which I’m sure you’ve heard about incessantly, I stayed in an odd sort of isolation. Not in isolation from other people, instead, I had almost no contact with people like myself — upperclassmen in high school, vying for their perfect college, eagerly following the school cycle. I would like to say that during this isolation, I learned more about myself or grew into a more mature figure, but alas, wisdom cannot be found on the hiking trails of Maine. As much as us tech-addicted city folk would like to believe.

Instead, the green and brown valleys of Maine were able to offer me something more beneficial — joy. It was something I hadn’t felt since freshman year. There’s something between the tree bark and green foliage that brings me peace. I’m proud to say that for a brief period in my upperclassman life, there was a time I completely ignored the whims of the academic system looming over my head, with its massive puppeteer hands playing my figure into some sort of drone worker ant for society.

And while the break is nice, the mountains of Maine can only hide you for so long. Eventually, the college admissions process will sneak into your lakeside cottage and wring your neck with its icy hands.

When I returned to Ann Arbor, I had about a week until school returned en masse. I found again hundreds of students entranced by the academic spell, the seams of their schedule bursting with as many AP classes and clubs as they could hold. They hoisted it around like some badge of honor, as if to say, “Look! I can put myself under incredible amounts of unhealthy and degrading stress! I’m a worthy human being!”, but these students only returned home to collapse under the weight of having your identity judged by a number on the SAT or a letter on your transcript. And I followed them. The puppeteer had come for me again, and, just as last year, I succumbed to its puppetry.

I know this doesn’t include most students. I know the vast majority don’t care about getting accepted into, say, an Ivy League school. But I’ve seen this way of thinking spread slowly throughout the student body. I’ve seen more and more kids who are starting to take their grades personally. Getting into a better college is more and more akin to being a better person. I’ve seen kids who don’t do well in school become depressed because they aren’t ‘good enough’ and I’ve seen kids who do well in school become depressed because they have to keep up their title.

I’m mature enough to know I’m not mature. And I’m smart enough to know that I’m not smart enough to mean anything that I say. But while I watch my peers grow, I see less and less of the intimidatingly mature and strong group of leaders that I saw in the seniors during my freshman year. Instead, I see more and more of a scared and defensive group of conformists. Students have been pressured by the world around them to fit into categories of positive adjectives. And I’ve spent too much time being trapped by these adjectives.

For many, they can handle the stress, remaining at redline for years of anxiety attacks and trips to the therapist. For me, I have considered ignoring the pressure from colleges to perform past what I want to do on my own. But the pressure remains. The world still values self-inflicted stress, whether or not I choose to inflict any on myself. The world is not like the hiking trails in Maine.

But here I remain, if not to give my last, immature self’s brazen opinions: live for yourself. If not, who will live for you?