My High School Journey- Part I

Prologue

Yesterday, on Friday June 3rd 2016, my fellow classmates and I graduated high school.

Is this even real? The reality of graduating- the closing of the first chapter of our lives and the beginning of a new one, leaving behind old friends and peers whom we’ve known since childhood- it’s all beginning to hit me. Hard.

Yet this time should not be one of mourning, but one of the greatest celebration. To my fellow class of 2016- You guys, we graduated high school! We passed arguably the biggest milestone to date. OUR LIVES START NOW! We are off onto our individual journey’s, whether it’s going to college, trade school, or straight into the work force. These past thirteen years, from Kindergarten to senior year, have culminated to this very moment, and I could not be more excited for what lies ahead for each and every one of you guys.

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Chp. 1: Freshman Year (2012-2013)

“If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you didn’t eat him.”

I came to Carlmont high school a confident, eager, bubbly little freshman. I remember strutting on campus the first day of high school, rockin’ my red blazer, white shorts, and matching red Toms, excited not only because I was FINALLY  a high schooler, but also because my mom had done my eyeliner in black pencil that day and I felt extra pretty. I remember walking into the student union to get my student ID picture taken, my mom standing in the background, engaged in sentimental conversation with fellow parents. I remember feeling extremely pleased with that year’s photo (although the next two years’ pictures would continue to haunt me), and giving my mom a hug goodbye before I stumbled my way to first period P.E., asking at least three people directions to the now all-too-familiar Terry Stogner Gymnasium. I remember meeting Clara, a fellow freshman who had just come from living in Italy for several months. Little did I know that, four years from then, Clara would be one of three Carlmont students (’16) attending Stanford University. I also met Rachel, an incredibly sweet cheerleader whom I shared three classes with that year- and two classes with senior year- who will be attending UC Berkeley this fall. The two of us hit it off, talking about her passion for cheer, and mine for gymnastics.

Ahh… gymnastics… The source of my greatest joy, greatest heartbreak, greatest growth… Going into freshman year of high school, I was still a competitive gymnast, training for the ’12-’13 competitive season as level 9. Despite the excitement I felt for high school, I still prioritized my sport over school. I was not thinking about getting into college- at the time, I knew of the competitive nature of the college admissions process, but since college felt light years away, I paid it little attention. Instead, I channeled most of my energy towards gymnastics, like I had been doing since elementary school, and had a goal of making the US rhythmic gymnastics national team.

Looking back, my freshman year mindset was one of intense passion but also distortion- I didn’t care much about forming lasting friendships, or excelling academically, or spending time with family- all I wanted was gymnastics. Gymnastics was my first love, but it was also my comfort zone. So little Belicia, at fourteen years of age, devoted her life to her sport, tunnel-visioned, looking only ten feet in front, rather than a hundred miles ahead. Did I think I would still be a competitive gymnast at age twenty-five? Probably not. But I refused to confront a life without gymnastics- the prospect was simply too scary. Did I worry about the chronic joint pain I’d experience years after my competitive career ended, owing to the repeated physical stress of the sport? Not at all- it was simply one of the many prices you had to pay. Carrying that tunnel-visioned mindset into high school, I had no interest in joining clubs, getting involved in student government, or, worst of all, nurturing friendships. Don’t get me wrong- my freshman year self was incredibly energetic and friendly, similar to the way I am now. The difference is, four years ago, I held myself with an “I’m above it all”  kind of attitude, turning down birthday party invitations and outings with friends with the classic “I’m sorry, but I have [something related to gymnastics]”. The truth is, I felt that I had all the friends I needed in my little world of gymnastics- teammates, coaches, competitors from other gyms. Again, we see the same pattern of refusing to look beyond where I felt confident and comfortable.

Then the injury happened. It was nearing the end of first semester freshman year, around November. The physical toil of the sport finally caught up to me, and I could no longer avoid going to the doctor for examination of my inflamed knees. Truth be told, when the doctor told me I had to take a long break from the sport, I was neither devastated nor angry. I was in complete denial of the severity of the tendinitis. I knew this injury would be a small setback, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle, right? That winter, I was still trying to convince my parents to let me switch to online schooling so I could focus more time towards my declining gymnastics career. I believed wholeheartedly that I could overcome this injury.

So the months passed. Physical therapy was tedious. Acupuncture provided only momentary pain relief. During that time, school was just school- a place I had to be, an obstruction to my ultimate goal of healing and getting back to what I loved. After three months with minimal improvement in my knee condition, I lost my patience. Somehow, I convinced my parents to let me go back to the gym- just one training. I was happy as a clam, being back in my gym. I resumed my goal of competing that season, with hopes of making level 10. The knee pain was still there, but I didn’t care. I tasted life without my passion- three months with no gymnastics. It was colorless, dull, listless. I hated it.

You can see where this story takes a turn. Going back to training full-force, with a preexisting injury, gritting my teeth through the pain that only intensified. Reinjury was inevitable. That spring, around March, I quit for good. There was a finality at that fateful doctor’s appointment that extinguished all hope within me of ever returning to gymnastics again. Dreams crushed. Heart broken. At fifteen years old, I experienced my first real adversity- the loss of a passion, dream, and life.

I fell into depression. I became socially withdrawn, unwilling to speak to my peers at school. I had a lot of bitterness in my heart at the time- I didn’t know what I had done to deserve the injury. I worked harder than most gymnasts; I sacrificed everything. It wasn’t fair, it just wasn’t. And so I grieved.

By the end of freshman year, I was no longer that sweet, bubbly, vivacious girl I was at the start of the year. I was in pain. Instead of signing yearbooks the last day of freshman year, I sat in a corner, watching videos of gymnasts on my iPad mini, in tears. I felt a void in my heart that I didn’t know how to fill.

UCLA Campus Shooting: An Absurdist Viewpoint

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

At approximately 10:00 a.m. today, two men were killed in a homicide-suicide that took place in the Engineering IV building at UCLA.

I was in the middle of graduation practice when a fellow classmate passed me by on the bleachers and told me to check out the news on UCLA.

When I read that there had been a shooting on campus, leaving two dead, my heart dropped, a wave of horror surging through my veins. I simply couldn’t believe it- my future school and home for the next four years, falling victim to such an atrocity. I immediately thought of all my friends on campus, and felt sick. After checking in with all of them via text message, I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered that none were hurt. But the feeling of unease persisted.

We hear about such cases of nefarious evil on the news, but for some reason, we seem to feel immune to such unspeakable horror. We distance ourselves from the imminence of danger, hoping that the fates will fall on our side. The truth is, though, no one is exempted. Death and suffering do not discriminate- an absurd idea, but also the truth. One of my friends from UCLA was walking towards the site of the shooting when the atrocity happened. Morbid as this may sound, if he had woken up ten minutes earlier, he could very well have been caught amidst the violence. How random, how arbitrary. Ten minutes was the fine line between safety and danger, life and potential death. Today’s shooting may have been an isolated case of homicide-suicide, but it could very well have been something worse. What if the shooter was a madman out to kill? The outcome would have been incredibly different.

But it all boils down to the same idea- no one is safe from death and suffering. Allow me to delve into a bit of Camus to support this idea.

In his works The Plague and The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus discusses the implications of mankind’s inevitable, non-discriminating fate of death and the proper response to such an absurd destiny.

When Camus speaks of the “crazy world in which men were hiked off like flies”, he alludes to the absurd reality that all humans are destined to die. The question then becomes, how must man create meaning in a world where death is the inescapable fate of all? How do we as individuals respond? Is it possible for one to escape or transcend this grim fate? Camus believes that while all people are sentenced to the absurd fate of death, one man just as prone to death as the next, people are still capable of giving their lives meaning. He argues that the most meaningful action one can perform in life is to improve human existence and fight against human suffering.

Camus’s philosophy gives us hope. Yes, this world is plagued with horrors, evils, atrocity, grief, and death. A Nihilist may say, “Screw it. There is no point to life if life always ends in death.” Camus, the  literary absurdist, argues otherwise. Yes, we are all susceptible to death. All men have “plague within [them]”- that is, all men have the capacity to both inflict and experience death and suffering- but it is the “good man” who strives to improve humanity and reduce suffering, instead of quietly submitting himself, and humanity as a whole, to his inevitable end. As Camus puts it, “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” One transcends one’s fate by refusing to allow the absurdity of the situation dampen one’s passion for life. “Scorn”, or mockery, of one’s tragic fate is a form of revolt, as one rises above one’s fate by refusing to play by its rules- that is, refusing to allow the absurd fate to do what it sets out to do: evoke misery.

So today’s shooting at UCLA was, thankfully, an isolated case. But it just as well could have been something much much worse. Philosophically, how must we respond to such an atrocity?

I’ll tell you what I will do. I will continue to live passionately. I refuse to allow the imminence evil overpower me into submission. I refuse to allow fear of the inevitable fate of death and suffering take away my love for life. When evil rears its ugly head, as it did today, it is horrible. But evil is,  unfortunately, inevitable. Today’s shooting is evidence that no one is safe. But we mustn’t let this grim fact dampen the beauty of the living. At this very moment, two families, two communities, mourn the loss of their loved ones. Heaven knows how difficult a time they must be going through. They will grieve. They will mourn. But I truly hope that one day, after sufficient time has passed, they will learn to find light in life once more.

To the more fortunate of us who’ve managed to emerge from such evil unscathed, what should we takeaway? We’ve seen today the fragility and transience of life- one pulling of the trigger, and it’s gone. Done. Finished. Should we plunge into despair, then? Or should we feel even more passionate about being alive? 

Clearly, I espouse the latter school of thought. I  believe we should celebrate life every waking moment; do everything in our power to bring happiness to this world through our individual gifts. I have a dream of healing people- this is how I plan to reduce the evil the prevails our world. Others may choose science, justice, social welfare, bringing people the gift of music and dance. Wherever your passion lies, spend every waking moment of your life chasing it down. Life is not a ticking time bomb, a perpetual waiting for the end. The end will come, for all of us. It is a question of how we fill in that precious time between birth and death. How do we create meaning in a meaningless world, a world where gunmen attack harmless schoolchildren; a world where police officers shoot innocent men; a world inundated with so much death and suffering? We must spend our lives contributing to society through our individual talents, fully aware of the absurd end, yet living with passion and happiness each day. 

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

~Camus

 

A LETTER TO INCOMING HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS

To incoming high school seniors-

On Thursday May 26, 2016, I officially concluded my last day of high school. I not only survived, but thrived in my four year journey at Carlmont high school, metamorphosing from timid insecure freshman to confident self-assured senior. I feel an obligation to give my younger peers- namely those going into their senior year- some pieces of advice I wish I had known going into my last year of high school.

So without further ado… Get ready for the best and most exciting year of your high school career, if not your lives!! You’re on mile 26 of the marathon- only 0.2 miles left to power through! The past thirteen years of school, from the first day of pre-K to walking across the high school graduation stage, have been culminating to this moment. COLLEGE. Going to college marks the transition from childhood to adulthood- leaving home for the first time, taking on the responsibility of succeeding in an academically rigorous environment, working towards your career goal, thriving without parents by your side, building a new network of friends, many of whom will remain lifelong companions. Sounds both exciting and utterly terrifying, doesn’t it? Well, hold your horses! You’re not there yet- senior year hasn’t even started for you guys!!! We’ll climb that mountain when we reach it. As of right now, here are my greatest pieces of advice for incoming high school seniors.

  1. Don’t Procrastinate on College Applications! I’ll be honest- I feel that the college application is over hyped. If you don’t procrastinate, you will be fine! Remember that the process of getting into college is one that spans throughout your high school career. There’s the standardized test that you may (or may not) have started prepping for in 8th grade- yup, I was that kid. Then there’s the tedious task of compiling a list of college you’d like to apply to, which entails extensive research, as well as travelling to visit schools across the nation. The hardest portion, for me at least, was the personal statement. Each school requires that you submit an essay, ranging from 500-1000 words, depending on what school you apply to. In addition to your “main” essay, many schools require that applicants write several supplemental essays- Stanford had somewhere around 11 additional essays required! The good news about supplemental essays is that you can tweak or reuse previous essays to fit the given prompt. It is your main essay that matters most. The personal statement is essentially your magnum opus- the greatest work of writing you will ever have written to date. Sound scary? There’s no need to worry. Just remember: do not wait until three weeks before the application is due to start your essay. I guarantee you, whatever you submit then will NOT be your best work. The personal statement can very well be the “make or break” criteria of getting into a school or not. You can have perfect grades and SAT/ACT scores, but if your essay is half-assed and poorly written, don’t expect to be seeing very many acceptance letters in your inboxes. 2 summers ago, I attended an information session at Princeton University, and I distinctly remember the admissions officer saying that the one thing great essays have in common is that they are WELL-WRITTEN. How does one produce a well-written essay? One must write drafts upon drafts upon drafts. Your final draft essay should look nothing like what you had originally written. The secret: just write. It will be rough at first, but this is a creative process. If you allow yourself sufficient time to generate ideas, proofread, edit, and rewrite, you have all the potential to generate an artistic masterpiece.
  2. Apply for Scholarships. After college apps were in, I was absolutely done with essay-writing. Little did I know that many of my fellow classmates were still hard at work, doing scholarship applications! It wasn’t until around late February that I realized how ignorant I’ve been regarding the scholarship portion of college applications. There is A LOT of unclaimed money floating out there- you just have to search for those opportunities. If you can get $1000 towards college by simply writing an essay, then why not go for it? Any form of financial aid, especially if you want to go to an expensive, out of state private school, will help. After you’re done with applying to schools, start looking for outside scholarships! Don’t be like me and completely turn a blind eye to this important step of the game. I have a friend who recently received 5 different scholarships, amounting to a total of $6000- significant, if all it took to get that money was writing essays. Why not help your parents out by paying for some of your college? If you are financing your own education, scholarships are doubly important. Bottom line: if you are looking for scholarships, the college application process is not over once you’ve submitted all your app’s. Scholarships! Start immediately once you’re finished with applying to schools!
  3. Second Semester Senior Year is Still HARD. I know- this may come as a disappointment to many of you. There’s this popular notion of spring of senior year as a time of total relaxation, zero homework, minimal school attendance, and carefree bliss. Yeah, I thought so too. The truth: it’s not. Just because college applications are in does not mean your senior year teachers will slow down their curricula or become more lax. The coursework itself does not change. Rather, it is the senior’s attitude towards schoolwork that does. There is admittedly less pressure to get straight A’s, as most colleges do not look at second semester senior year grades when considering admission. By then, you’ll have already submitted your college apps, and it is simply a waiting game to hear back from schools. While some students may say, “Well screw it- why must I even show up to school if these grades don’t even matter?”, I will remind you that colleges could potentially rescind your acceptance should you let your second semester grades drop too far. That being said, getting a couple B’s here and there is harmless. So here’s the rub. It is tough for a lot of high-achieving students to suddenly stop trying to get A’s, for they’ve been conditioned to do so for the past 4+ years! It’s tough to break routine, to see your grades slide, even just a bit. So for students who still care about keeping their grades up, be it for personal satisfaction, keeping up momentum, or pleasing overbearing parents, spring of senior year  will not feel  all that much different from first semester, except that college applications will be out of the way (which is indeed a HUGE relief). On the flip side, if you’re a student who is completely fine with letting your grades drop a bit, then you may find second semester to be much less demanding in terms of coursework. It all depends on the individual. Just know that teachers won’t make their courses any easier for seniors, and it is up the student to decide how he/she will respond.
  4. Senioritis is Real and Inevitable. Guys, it’s true. Senioritis will happen- in varying degrees, of course- but it will hit everyone at one point or another. For some, it hits during spring of senior year. Others may have already felt it by sophomore year! For me, senioritis hit the greatest around AP testing time (first week of May). All I can say is that senioritis is totally normal, and you don’t need to feel totally guilt-ridden if you loosen your grip a little. It is OKAY to not be perfect!!! And once you’ve gotten into college, you no longer have to strive for this illusion of perfection, for you’ve reached the ultimate goal of your first life chapter! Just relax in moderation, and don’t let your grades drop so much that your college acceptance is rescinded. NEVER let that happen. I stand by what I said in my post about senioritis, A Rant on Senioritis. The drive to maintain straight A’s may dwindle, but I highly encourage students to redirect their energies towards something enjoyable and productive, like learning a new skill! Utilize the free time you have away from the books, instead of letting the time fly away. Time is precious, invaluable, and NEVER on your side. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more of my senior year on growing myself, and less of it in my room, either studying or watching Grey’s Anatomy. By redirecting your energies towards things you couldn’t do during times of greater academic pressure, you will grow yourself, open new doors, maybe even find a new passion!
  5. Senior Year Goes By INSANELY Fast. I swear, I felt like just yesterday I was strutting on campus in my pink and white Hawaiian dress, freshly tanned from the Maui sun, excited as ever to finally be a senior! With the hype of college applications, last minute standardized tests, and the added stress of senior year academics, it is way too easy to lose track of time. My advice to you- try to enjoy every moment of your senior year. Stress less, spend more time with loved ones. I know, it sounds simple, but this is your final year of high school. Your last year to spend with friends you’ve known since elementary school. Your last year you’ll be spending so much time with your family. It sounds cliche, but cherish each moment you have with those you love, before it’s time to part ways.

So those are my five biggest pieces of advice for incoming high school seniors! I really hope I was of help to some of you guys! A concluding note: for current juniors, I know the prospect of being on  your way to college in a little over a year is both exciting and scary. I am about three and a half months away from leaving to UCLA, and I will say that the apprehension does not really fade. But the excitement of it all increases with every waking moment- even now, as I am writing about college, my head is spinning in sheer excitement for all the opportunities that lay ahead. So enjoy your last year of high school, and get pumped for the very near future! Your life will soon begin.