Through the eyes of a first semester senior: the college process and more

My friends and I are counting down the days until the first semester of senior year ends, until we can officially declare ourselves “second semester seniors.” Maybe then, I’ll be able to go on a proper vacation, because I haven’t gone on one in a few years, unless you count exhausting debate tournaments or college trips.

And the college process itself is brutal. I don’t hate colleges, I just abhor the process itself. The colleges themselves are merely wonderful institutions full of opportunities, but the process seems to have brought out the worst in all of us. It has torn families apart, it has stressed me out beyond belief, and it has scared me to death. Peers, who used to look out upon the world with wide and innocent eyes, now squint at the sun and scurry back inside to slave away at their homework (a little exaggeration, but that’s honestly what it feels like). My college counselor puts it simply: we are, but should try not to, sell our souls to the devil.

Is it too extreme to say that I no longer believe in altruism anymore? Maybe I’ve been feeling too pessimistic, but it seems like every service project, every volunteer opportunity, every leadership position has just become a row on a Common App, a check on a box, a mask for something to augment, to boost, to plump up someone’s college application.

And the worst part about all of this is that, it’s not a very accurate representation of who we are, is it? How can we condense 18 years of our life into a couple of pages, to be evaluated in less than half an hour? Do we feel safe letting our futures rest in the hands of a couple of adults who most likely, have never met us? Will they know how much anxiety we’ve acquired from this whole experience? How many rational explanations we have for every flaw in our character, for every mistake and misstep reflected in our resume?

Education is what takes us into the future. The course of the future is changing every which way daily, so how do we deal with the ongoing problems that our society faces and will face? We do so in two successful ways: with children, and with creativity. We’ve got to combine these two forces together to account for the fact that the future holds burdens and we can only resolve these problems through kids, because they (or we? I’m still a kid I guess) are the generation that is going to be taking care of you (average adult) when you’re in your rocker.

But how do kids get this foundation? School, of course. And the most watched TEDTalk of all time, Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity,” gave me some extraordinary and thought-provoking insight about the way the public education system operates today.

To establish a bit of context however, I am very fortunate to go to a private school where we have a very rigorous academic curriculum while still maintaining a relatively high quality of creative, artistic, and expressive opportunities.

But I haven’t always gone here; I spent my elementary schools years at a public school, and one of the saddest experiences I can recall was when the arts programs at my school started to die out. Little by little, portions of the program started being cut. At first, they stretched the art supplies. We had to be mindful of how much clay everyone got, but then the difference was more noticeable. Orchestra stopped being offered to fourth graders, and then it was eventually cut altogether.

Observing the current state of the public education system, it seems as though the arts are not prioritized. What do the sacrifices that we make say about our values? Orchestra may not have been my favorite class, but it shaped who I am today because I learned to express myself in a way that many other fourth graders couldn’t. That course set me up for the passion and zeal that I feel for the violin today, even if it arose from me sawing away at a tiny violin for half an hour everyday.

Children are supposed to believe that life is easy, and not have to suffer from the realities of the outside world at such a early point in their life right? Cutting out arts programs at my school was the inkling and my first peek into the outside world.

The whole experience makes me think of the quote from The Outsiders: “Stay golden, Ponyboy…stay gold.” We start growing out of creativity and innocence, as we are steamrolled and streamlined into identical models of the same student. We are all pushed to excel in every class that we take, regardless of the fact that some of us just don’t click with certain subjects.

Ken Robinson’s great; I recommend tuning into his most popular (and many other) speeches if you enjoy humor and British accents. He argues that as adults, we no longer take chances. We feel compelled to head straight from school into the workforce. Afraid to take chances and veer off of the course that society has dictated, we are never prepared to be wrong, even when it is perfectly okay to be wrong about what we want to do.

Because, the fundamental idea is that what is now academic may not also be educational. We have prioritized academics as more than a subset and blown it up to exaggerated proportions because of some industrialist mindset that’s been prevalent in our minds for generations. This mentality presumes that everyone is the same, and that we can all be molded into little look-alike and act-alike robots.

And if in another life, I would have been a fantastic singer, I might have been encouraged, under the present educational system, to abandon such desires and pursue a safe future in industrial engineering, or finance, or something like that. We don’t value ourselves for what we could be. Lots of talent is wasted that way.

But education has the capacity to be very diverse, and there are many approaches to take. It’s constantly changing, but our approaches remain outdated. Perspective is thus revealed to allow for creativity, as new ideas arise through new experiences. Everyone is different; we all act and think in different ways. I probably don’t understand why you do what you do, but you understand it, and that’s enough. What would our lives be lie if we chose to pursue our dreams? Would we be happy? If we didn’t succeed, would we then give up, or might we take that as a learning experience?

My cousin is a thespian. I’ve never encountered such love for theatre in one person. And despite his pursuance of a business degree, I hope he never loses this vivacity inside of him that will prompt him to randomly break out in song or hum along. I hope that he always wants to learn new skills, the way that he all of the sudden picked up beatboxing and mastered it well.

I want to be a writer; I would gladly major in creative writing if I didn’t feel the pressures of society compressing my insides. But deep down, this desire is all but suppressed; it’s still alive, and it’s boiling away inside of me.

Looking for chillstep? Look no farther!

7 comments

  1. bryantw99

    I just want that egg freaking benedict…yummy gooey noms i want to eat at midnight–give me something to nibble onnnnnnn–i like the pistachio taste, so something like bacon flavored sorbet. nahs one poniosmo enticominicimo faminopaw nwicompeeps

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  2. Martin Rice

    Good post. You did a great job in describing the tension between nurturing creativity and the demands of surviving in our current society. But sometimes we have to accept realities and then find the way to do what we really want to do. You say: “I want to be a writer; I would gladly major in creative writing if I didn’t feel the pressures of society compressing my insides. But deep down, this desire is all but suppressed; it’s still alive, and it’s boiling away inside of me.” (Did you mean “but deep down this desire is NOT all suppressed?”)

    You might have to make some choices here and look for alternatives. If you feel you simply can’t major in creative writing, you should keep on writing anyway. If there’s no time, then maybe you need to make some adjustments. You love debating, which takes a great deal of your time. If writing is more important to you, then perhaps you should consider cutting back on debating and spending more time on your writing. If you can’t major in creative writing, there’s the possibility of spending summers at creative writing workshops, many of which are outstanding.

    You have to find a way not to let the pressures of society compress your insides. You need to find a way to balance that tension you feel from these competing forces in order to get to where you ultimately want to be.

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    • catdiggedydog

      Oops, I may have misspoken in the very last portion of the post. That IS probably what I meant. But thank you, Martin, for your advice and encouragement. I’m trying to keep my options open and stay true to myself, without giving into what others want and expect of me. Glad you enjoyed this post.

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