Upperclassmen. Even as they scorn their younger and less experienced counterparts, they are nevertheless revered as carriers of invaluable and otherwise unattainable wisdom regarding classes, teachers, and the other unwritten rules of high school. They need only open their mouth and in a matter of seconds, they will be swarmed by masses of eager-to-please freshmen and still somewhat anxious sophomores, all clamoring and piously listening for those potentially game-changing words. Of course, this isn’t new—it is a time-honored tradition of schools everywhere, where one has the cocky upperclassman chiding and occasionally instilling fear into the rather faint of heart youngsters. But what’s more is that this desire for guidance and a veteran opinion stems straight from human instinct and is embedded into our psychological makeup itself. And while this need for advice from a mentor is appropriate for certain parts of life, it is not necessary for the school environment.

The high school experience is not one-size-fits-all. It holds in store something different for everyone. Where one student may find algebra simply an unfathomable muddle of numbers and letters, another may take great pride in their ability to efficiently puzzle answers out of that seemingly incoherent mess. Likewise, the student struggling with algebra might enjoy her creative writing class, where she can entangle her reader in her web of words, whereas another student may not be able to properly articulate their emotions on paper. In this way, some classes and/or courses may be demanding or just completely draining for some, but an intrinsic talent for others. Therefore, taking another person’s word about the difficulty of a certain course is never a good idea; it just creates mental stress on the student, hindering them from performing at their full potential for fear of doing the wrong thing and breaking their GPA. It is only possible for a student to give their best in an environment where they are unaffected by false impressions.

My freshman year, I had my schedule brusquely snatched out of my quaking, clammy hands by juniors and seniors, who, after poring over the list ever so nonchalantly, would fling it back to me with pity. They told me that I was in for a dreadful year, because the teacher was overly strict or a tough grader. After a pause in the conversation, I managed to choke out the word, “Why?” The upperclassmen, as if waiting for my question, launched into a tirade about the difficulty of her class. I left with their resounding warning ringing in my ears. So before I even met the woman, I had formed an impression that there was no need to even try in her class—if I got a bad grade it would be her fault. And I did get bad grades, but it had nothing to do with the teacher. I wasn’t studying, and that was why I wasn’t doing too well. She actually turned out to be much better than expected, she was actually extremely fair because she always showed us the rubrics before any and every assignment, and encouraged us to approach her with any quandaries about our grades. I found that I was not the only one who had this prejudice, a lot of my peers who had received the same advice found themselves in a rut as well.

High school is a time of shaping character- something you can’t do if you are constantly worried about being perfect. Although classes seem like the most important part of your life, they are not. Ludicrous as it may seem, there is a raw beauty in life’s cycle of stumbling, falling and getting back up. High school itself is a labyrinth, full of choices, people, and twisting, winding paths which all eventually lead to a door behind which rests your calling in life. College admissions and grades set aside, finding this door is the ultimate goal of high school. There is no shortcut to finding this door; you must get scarred and bruised to build your strength and learn about yourself. Using someone else’s advice will not help you find the door, because everyone’s labyrinth is different, and you can’t use someone else’s map to navigate your life. But when you reflect upon your experiences, you remember those places in which you erred and all the lessons learned from those mistakes.

So, next time you hear upperclassmen recounting experiences with a certain teacher or course and offering their hard-earned wisdom, forget it. That advice won’t get you anywhere. Ironically, you need only one piece of advice when it comes to high school—live it yourself.


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