Combat the conveyor — life is now, so high school students should enjoy it

Megan Madden

Life in high school is a waiting game. Seniors wait for college acceptance letters. Our parents wait for our course reports to show up. We wait to find out whether the math quiz really was a disaster, or whether we’ll be filling a leadership role in the coming year. We wait for the digital clock in the right-hand corner of the Smart Board to read “2:45 p.m.” We wait for what we think will be the beginning of our lives.

We all attend Urban for different reasons. There is a common thread that we share just by showing up to school in the morning. Each of us is here because (yes, we are required by law to receive at least some high school education), in the long run, what Urban gives us is a chance to make it someday in the world of our choosing.

The behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that none of us, even when we most think we’ve made up our minds, “know(s) what (we) want unless (we) see it in context.” Perhaps we don’t have as complete an understanding of our options as we would like. So in high school — the time between dependence and self-reliance – we can only guess where we’d like to be few years down the line.

While some might say Urban is a happy medium between an ultra-competitive environment and a school that inspires learning for learning’s sake, the ambiguity around what Urban’s (and our own) goals for ourselves creates confusion when it comes time to begin thinking about life after Urban. According to Gracelyn Newhouse (’12), “(Urban) is a closeted, competitive type of space, where people try not to be too competitive,” though “(there) is an undercurrent of looking to our futures.”

But what future, precisely, are we waiting for? The answer to that question is somewhat unclear, but for many, not so much. Students interviewed for this editorial consistently brought up the issue of college admissions.

The expectation that a high school education leads to a college education that will lead to employment “feels like a conveyor belt in the sense that it’s pointing us towards an ultimate destination. And I don’t think you ever really get off it,” says Cole Larsen (’12).

When Gabi Walter-Clay (’12) was asked if she feels the pressure of high school, she said, “I really can’t talk about that right now because I’m really stressed out.” For students who are ambitious, there is a price to pay for not pursuing a traditional path to success. But what is the price of not taking risks? It’s impossible to know.

“A lot of times when I tell people that I want to defer (college) for a year they’re surprised that I’d even think of doing (it),” says Gracelyn Newhouse (’12).

But the truth is, life is now. As Gloria Steinem, an American social and political activist, says, “life is time, and time is all there is.” How we choose to spend our time is entirely up to us. Hannah Sears (’12) says, “I feel like I have chosen a very particular way to spend my high school years. Though I’ve always prioritized doing well, I feel like I see people who were a little more out there, and did things that I didn’t really consider doing, because I thought so much could go wrong.”

We’ll never really know for sure how the choices we’ve made for ourselves have limited or liberated us. But it is not true that life begins only after high school. The conveyor belt should be more than a means to an end. We’re mistaken to think our lives are out of our hands. It’s how we choose to perceive the choices we make now — whether or not we claim them as our own — that determines how we craft, and ultimately look back, on our experience in high school.

It helps to realize that the uncertainty shrouding our futures is what actually makes them beautiful and exciting, further empowering us to jump off the conveyor belt and pursue what we want. As soon as we know what that is.