As AP tests are now over, homework has slowed, and the days until my high school graduation dwindle (this column will appear on the day of my graduation from San Ramon Valley High School), I have had the opportunity to reflect on the last 12 very influential years of my life. I have had time to get some perspective on my high school career. For the last month, I have been having the time of my life, leisurely enjoying friends and having adventures without the worry of having to break away to get some paper, project or assignment done. I can't seem to get enough conversation with friends, and I am making the effort to secure and enhance my relationships and connections as much as possible. I am aware that this time is likely one of the most fun, carefree times I will have for the rest of my life, and while this is a daunting thought, it allows me to cherish it all the more. This last month has made me think that perhaps there is something flawed about our educational system.
From the very beginning of my education, I have felt discouraged from simply enjoying the present and have felt consistently pushed to prepare for some impending, scary future. As a middle school student I was warned of the frightening halls of high school: the bullies, the unmanageable amounts of homework and impossible tests, and have been equipped with skills for how to fight high school's battles. In high school this trend of constant preparation has only been perpetuated. Because of the pressure on teachers for their students to perform well on tests, it seems many are not able to teach for the present enjoyment of learning; the focus must be on future success on exams. In pursuit of the perfect college, we are encouraged to sacrifice time with friends, more appealing course choices, time to develop hobbies and to just have fun or to take a nap once in a while, for the sake of compiling a competitive résumé - one wrought with an obscene grade point average and SAT score - so that our futures will be bright.
After high school ends, I am aware that this preparation for the future is far from over; once I get to Kenyon, the small liberal arts college in Ohio I will attend this fall, there will be preparation for graduate school, landing my first job, and then my second.... But, my hope is that in college, I will get to pursue more vigorously the subjects and activities with which I am truly in love - psychology, sociology, art, music. Though it will be hard work and in a big sense preparing for the future, I will feel more confident in knowing that I am working for things that give me true satisfaction.
While it is obviously important to have aspirations, and look toward the future in order to grow and change, we must be cognizant of enjoying the present moment. Perhaps there is a way we can prepare students for the future better than with futile and repetitive work that hardly allows for the enjoyment of now. To prepare students for a life of fruitful contributions to society (this is after all why we attend school in the first place), perhaps we should lighten up a bit on the work load, and place heavier emphasis on allowing kids to enjoy their youth, develop more authentic relationships, dabble in a variety of interests, and discover and pursue their passions. It is when individuals are passionate that their contributions to the world are truly extraordinary and long lasting.
At my impending graduation ceremony, I am certain that after receiving the customary congratulations for our efforts thus far, we will be fed words that are supposed to inspire us to believe in our potential to achieve greatness in some far off, bright and distant future. Like every class that has preceded us, we will be told that we are the people of the future, who are filled with all the potential to change the world. And while these sentiments are important, too infrequently are we reminded that it is essential that we actively seek fulfillment, meaning, and to create change at this very moment. We don't have time to wait around.
But, the solution is not that everyone simply start living for today and never look beyond tomorrow; it is, however, that individuals start now to discover and enrich themselves (and others) by doing the activities that bring them most fulfillment. And while it may be a treacherous journey up the mountain, it is absolutely necessary to stop, breathe and enjoy the view along the way. As graduation approaches, I look forward to the future in the sense that I am excited for all the opportunities it will bring me, but for now am happy to sit back and enjoy the last, carefree months I have at home.
The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck, Katharine!