Thursday, May 5, 2011

Your Life is Now

Recommended listening: Your Life is Now by John Mellencamp

For the first time ever, I rushed home to blog. Although I do enjoy blogging, I have never felt compelled to the point where I would disregard the urgency of an upcoming test or the growling of my stomach or the fatigue pressing my eyelids shut. No, today I have come home invigorated.
Just minutes ago I was part of a Student Advisory Board meeting, our last official meeting before our end-of-the-year cookout. Student Advisory Board is comprised of students from all four grade levels who have the unique opportunity to meet with a variety of administrators in order to discuss issues ranging from cafeteria setup to curriculum.
Today, our discussion began with the documentary Race to Nowhere. Although I have not seen the film, I cannot wait to get my hands on it. And, after a brief summary by our principal, a majority of the room was nodding in agreement and yearning for the chance to share their thoughts. In fact, several students stayed well after the final bell rang in order to tell their side of the story.

My side
Although I could, like many teens, rant endlessly about the overwhelming stress I've been under or the incomprehensible amount of work I've been given, I believe that point has been made clear. Sure, there have been nights when I heard birds chirping before I even put my pajamas on, and classes that I fought to stay awake in, and material I failed to understand -- but there's so much more to it.
However, I have to start off by saying that I have been incredibly blessed. I go to a wonderful school in a wonderful community with so many faculty members who have a true passion for educating young people. And, even better, I have never felt any pressure from my parents to do anything more than my best, even if that means grades and test scores that are not perfect.
I know that the environment I've grown up in has benefitted me in countless ways, but I also see it destroying people. I've heard parents verbally harass their children for not achieving the 36 they should have or coming in 1st at whatever competition they are expected to excel in. I've witnessed teachers assign an outlandish amount of homework with no sympathy or understanding for the situation they have put their students in. And, most tragically, I have seen students push themselves to chase an image of perfection that is both unrealistic and unhealthy.

What I've learned
With exactly one month until graduation, senior year has given me some much-needed perspective. After getting deferred from what was always my "dream school", I was forced to reconsider what I wanted for my future and how I planned to achieve it. I realized that, after busting my butt throughout high school, I wanted to relax and enjoy myself a bit more in college. Although I plan on double-majoring and maintaining a solid GPA, I also plan on pursuing my passions and learning about life, not just facts. Rather than selecting the highest-ranking (and coincidentally most expensive school) I was accepted to, I have chosen to attend The University of Wisconsin -- Madison which has a balance of the academic standard I believe is necessary, as well as the student life and social opportunities I hope to make the most of. And if there is one thing I am proud of myself for it is the fact that I was able to select a school based on how well it fit me and my goals, rather than just its prestige. If there is one lesson I could pass on to underclassman, and even overachieving middle schoolers, it would be that it is not about the numbers -- your ACT score does not define you, your GPA does not define you, and the ranking of your college certainly does not define you.

What now?
After the passionate discussion that today's meeting elicited, we have decided to schedule one more before the final cookout. And, with only one month left, there is little impact I can feasibly make at my school. So, here I am, writing to whoever is reading this with the following questions:

  • What is propelling you to do what you do? Are you passionate about the things you invest your time into, or is some outside force driving you to do whatever it is that you do?
  • What is your ultimate goal? Is it all about the college you are accepted to or the grades you earn or surpassing your peers? Or is it about connecting with people, exploring new concepts, and growing as a person?
  • Why? Just ask yourself, why? Is this all really worth it?
Although grades and scores do matter to some extent, they by no means define me or anyone else. I have written all year about identity, and not once have I attributed identity to a number. 

Four years ago I took a summer school class called Art Foundation in the hopes of taking photography throughout high school. I never took a single photography class.
This summer I will finally begin to explore photography, not for a grade or college credit, but solely because it is something I want to do. It is better late than never, but there is certainly no reason to put your passions on pause in order to win the race to nowhere.

These kids come to the table with this creativity and love of learning, let's just not take it out of them.
Race to Nowhere


  1. Jamie! I really, really enjoyed both today's meeting and this post! :) First and foremost, I want to congratulate you on your acceptance to Madison. I've grown up visiting the campus tons of times, and I know you'll have the time of your life! Secondly, I love the questions you asked. To me, without passion, nothing is fully accomplished/worth it. While it's hard in high school to follow this idea, it's important to recognize and answer your questions. Thank you so much for such a great year, you're awesome!

  2. Normally I hate commenting on blogs because I have nothing to say... Just, I whole heartily agree. It took me a long time to learn this lesson as well, I wish I had heard it from another student earlier.
    I hope people read your blog & follow your advice. I wish you all the best at Madison and in your future photography endeavors.

  3. I should have watched the movie! I can't remember when, but didn't they show it after school? Anyways, great read as always. This I can particularly relate to. My parents aren't the most understanding with grades and sometimes I just think they wont be pleased with anything but straight A's. Thanks for reminding me that those things aren't who I am. Its dumb to be judged on things like that.

  4. you're great. great post :)

  5. although I always love your posts, I especially loved this one. I can really relate and it gave me a new perspective. My mom actually saw the movie when it played at school, and afterward she came and talked to me about the way i have gone about my education. I've been thinking a lot about it recently, and your post fit perfectly! the questions you asked really made me think about the way i have set goals and expectations for myself, and if i'm even getting anything out of it. thank you so much for writing this =] ps...i'm so proud of you/excited for you for following up on your interest in photography. you're gonna be great =]

  6. first of all, great picture cutie pie : ] second of all, great post! My parents watched the Race to Nowhere and told me about it, it sounds really interesting. Let's watch it someday? I think its great that you are finally pursuing your passion for photography! I can't wait to see all of your beautiful photos : ] we can hang them in our dorm room!

  7. Jamie dear, this post hit me hard! It truly made me get all introspective and such. I busted my butt through high school and really didn't have that much fun til this year, as you know. And while I'm delighted about the school I'm attending, I can't help but question whether it was worth it anyway. I know I could have been incredibly happy at Michigan or Indiana or Boston College. That's the thing-- I think everyone has the potential to find a niche anywhere. What makes the school I chose so much better than the others? Sometimes I wonder whether I was too enticed by prestige. It's an interesting thought. So if any underclassmen are reading this, chill out and enjoy high school, because you'll end up happy no matter where you go :] Thanks for an awesome post girl. You rock <3

  8. Jamie, I have loved reading your blog so much throughout the year, and this post was certainly no exception. Like others have commented before me, I wish I had realized that I was working too much earlier in my high school career and that I had invested more in things that I am truly passionate about. Your questions were thought-provoking and definitely reinforced what I have been working hard to teach myself all year: I need to do things that make me happy; only then can I truly and passionately learn. Your posts are always insightful, and I know your commitment to finding identity and following your passions will serve you well in college and beyond. Best of luck with your photography, and you should seriously keep blogging.-- Kate H

  9. I guess we should have went the Race to Nowhere way with the All School Workshop when we discussed it as an option in the beginning. With the questions you pose, it ties directly to our notion of passions so perhaps we should explore it again as an option for next year.

    What do you think?