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  • Writer's pictureKaya Long

4 Lessons from 4 Years of High School: A Senior Reflection

Updated: May 6

This is essentially a love letter to the past four years of my life. Even though the tumultuous period of high school had its ups and down, knowing it is a time I am permanently leaving behind in just a week is difficult to reconcile nonetheless. It is like getting the chance to finally walk through a door that you've been looking towards your whole life. Up until this point it’s felt far off into the distance and intangible. But now that you have arrived at the cusp of the doorway, the thought of the door closing behind you once you step through it is inherently daunting. You are leaving what is familiar and comfortable behind and venturing into an expansive unknown.


I have been thinking about this transition quite a bit in the past couple months when I haven’t been distracted or consciously trying to expel the thought from my mind. All of this to say that I have found solace in confronting my feelings and reflecting on everything that I have learned throughout the course of my high school years. These lessons and tokens of personal growth have crescendoed over the past several months. So now, I would like to share four lessons that I have discovered one can only truly learn through first-hand experience–-trial and error. These are the lessons that I will be taking with me from my four years of high school and a little reminder that I am leaving behind for whomever may be reading this.



1. Your best is not always enough and that is ok

This lesson was a doozy to learn and truthfully I did not wholeheartedly believe this until halfway through my senior year. The class I have to thank for getting it through my thick skull is none other than AP Physics Mechanics C. Up until my experience in that class the precedent I had been accustomed to was that as long as I extensively (emphasis on extensively) studied for tests I would get the result I wanted. Needless to say, from day one in that class I was brutally humbled, my ego shattered. 


You know that saying “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”? Yeah, that is some serious baloney. Or at least it is not always true, as I discovered. Time and time again I would get handed back tests with scores that scoffed at the scattered pieces of my ego while the STEM dudes next to me would get 5s (the highest score on the AP scale) with minimal to zero studying. In fact, I was the only girl in that class of dudes that seemed to breathe math and science, which was a little intimidating to begin with.


Finally, after devastatingly failing my midterm that I spent five consecutive nights studying for (an hour or two each night) I had an Eureka moment where I thought “Why am I doing this to myself?” I’d never been one to pass up on a challenge or take the easy way out, but I finally came to terms with the fact that my decision to take this class was causing so much unnecessary suffering, and for what? 


After sticking it out for a whole semester and continuously putting my best foot forward in spite of the perennial feeling of inadequacy, I had hit rock bottom. I had studied and studied and then studied some more, but here I was with one week left before the end of the first semester of my senior year and I had an F in the class. My best was not good enough, and that was a difficult pill to swallow. That is when I made the decision to switch into regular ole physics and simply take the final in that class to secure an adequate semester grade. That experience taught me that it’s pointless to beat yourself up if your best effort is not enough to achieve the goal you want. Goals are meant to fit you, not the other way around. 


2. Advocate for yourself in your relationships

The importance of this lesson cannot be overstated. Over the course of this year in particular I have come to fully realize that if you do not stand up for your needs and establish boundaries in your relationships then you and your relationships in general will inherently suffer. 


I have experienced situations in nearly all my close relationships this year where I have struggled with advocating for myself. In one friendship I had withheld my frustration about the same issues for so long (we’re talking over a year) that my suppressed feelings shot through the surface like a submerged beach ball and I became resentful to the point where it eventually became impossible to hide in my daily interactions with this person. The conflict has since been brought to light and fortunately resolved and our friendship is better for it, but that entire escalation could have been avoided if I had communicated my feelings earlier on. I would also like to mention that advocating for yourself could also mean subtly giving yourself space from someone if that is what you need. 


Boundaries–-while universally important in all relationships (friends, parents, etc.)–-are particularly important in romantic relationships. Conveniently, they are also the most difficult to establish in this kind of relationship because there are very intense emotions involved and one party might fear hurting the other person’s feelings. However, once you go down the road of failing to openly acknowledge and communicate what you’re comfortable with, it is a slippery slope that can ultimately jeopardize the relationship that you were coddling in the first place. For example, I have seen how being a yes man in some of my friendships has projected an image of being a pushover, which has been taken advantage of in the past. 


Moreover, it is not selfish to communicate your needs or express how you feel in any of your relationships. Without this crucial communication, sooner or later, the relationship will fall apart. If the other party invalidates how you feel or violates your established boundaries, then that is simply not okay and you need to tell them that. I have had a lot of difficult conversations with the people closest to me in my life this year. Some have gone well, while others not so much. But I know that if I had shied away from being honest with certain people about how I was feeling in the relationship then I am not sure if the relationship would have survived up until this point. At the end of the day, how you are feeling the majority of the time in a relationship is the biggest indication of whether your needs are being met and if this is not the case then advocate, advocate, advocate!


3. Don’t do what you don’t enjoy 

It seems simple, but yet it took me two years of brutal torture to learn this one. Okay, that is a little melodramatic I’ll admit (even for me). But seriously, the things we will persist through for the sake of our ego is seriously impressive. I have none other to thank for this lesson than the one and only: debate. 


Ok real talk. The days leading up to debate tournaments were grueling for me. There was this knot of anxiety that sat in my stomach all the time. While I enjoyed some aspects of debate, I was frequently sick with dread, consumed by stress. That was my honest experience. 


It took me two years to come to my senses and ask myself the infamous question: “Why am I doing this to myself?” I realized that I wasn’t participating in the activity for the right reasons, but more importantly I realized that I was utterly miserable and my anxiety associated with debate had become all consuming. It was then, during the summer before my junior year, that I made the pivotal decision to leave debate and put my efforts elsewhere. 


Even so, I wouldn’t take that experience back for the world. Over those two years of debate, I acquired invaluable research and speaking skills that I continue to apply in my daily life. I proved to myself what hard work can accomplish (with the obvious caveat that I described earlier); I placed second in Varsity Public Forum at the state tournament my sophomore year and attended Nationals later that summer. Both most notably, that experience taught me that I should never do things to appease others (including my self-critic) at the expense of my own happiness and I am eternally grateful for that.


4. Life is too short to surround yourself with people that do not fill you up

This lesson is somewhat intertwined with the previous lesson I described. The people you surround yourself with should give you energy and make you feel lighter. So if you’re feeling bummed out every time you spend time with someone, then it might be a good idea to reconsider whether that relationship is worth your time and effort. We all have a finite amount of time and energy to give so we need to be intentional about how we use it.


It’s not easy to completely cut someone out of your life and a lot of the times that is too extreme of a measure, but you can moderate the amount of energy you are investing into the relationship so you can prioritize the people in your life that fill you up. Being in touch with how those around you make you feel is essential to ensure that your social life is fulfilling and at a very baseline level, that your relationships are healthy. 


Welcoming and normalizing this honest assessment in my life has helped me shift my perspective to fully appreciate those that most enrich my life, rather than fixate on those that don’t more often than not. I would also like to acknowledge that this can fluctuate, as all relationships ebb and flow, but that is why constantly checking in with yourself is so important. 


Closing Remark 

Unlike the fallacious cliches I have previously mentioned, the sentiment that every mistake is a lesson learned certainly rings true. Take the time to self assess even if it’s difficult. Reevaluate what is most important to you and reflect on what your relationships add to your life (or what they don’t). And perhaps most importantly, as an incredible person once told me is a “non-negotiable,” have grace with yourself. 


To my four years of high school at Parker School, thank you for everything. 


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Britta Zimmer
Britta Zimmer
May 06

Wisdom. Your legacy will never be forgotten, Kaya. This publication breathes so much life into the Parker Community. Thank you for all of your hard work.

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