highest honors

End of the Year Gathering: The Finale

It’s Erica, your new high school graduate.

My cap slowly slid off my head with each round of applause as each person stood up to receive their diplomas. By the time I got up, it was clinging onto my head with its last elastic breaths, and I tore it off as soon as I stepped off the stage.

I’m thankful that alphabetical order allowed me to sit between Levi and Aidan—they told me I wasn’t going to die when I needed to hear it most and even kept copies of  my speech just in case I passed out on the way to the podium. During my speech my eyes kept flitting around the audience, looking for Allison somewhere in the pews, but I couldn’t locate her frazzled head anywhere.

(neither Levi nor Aidan)

(neither Levi nor Aidan)

I couldn’t believe that was it. This was the event we had all been waiting for, to solidify the end of high school. The caps and the gowns, the sea of family and friends, this was all it. Pomp and Circumstance sounded ten times better when we were marching to its tune down the aisles.

But those two hours were just as fleeting as the rest of that long-awaited week. For a week we were removed into our lives and placed in Lancaster to make the Eden our home. For one last week we rotated between swinging on the playground and sitting in the lobby and eating at Garfield’s. We went out to movies, to dinner, to the park, and to coffee, spending our nights and days pretending, as we always have, to be normal friends.

In the matching t-shirts

And the days in Philadelphia.

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The 3am breakfasts

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And the 1940s swing dancing.

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Even in sitting on the grass

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Or sitting in the car.

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This was VPSA. This was the best part and the worst part about going to Veritas, the best part and worst part of such a physically distant yet painfully personal high school community.

And for one last time, the Gathering ended with eating Subway at the park and making a flurry of goodbyes. They were more heartfelt this time, as we went around not knowing which goodbyes were merely a “see you later” and which were actually permanent. But a couple days later, here we are now, no longer shoulder to shoulder but mile to mile and state to state and ocean to ocean, awaiting the future in which some of our paths will converge again.

While I was always somewhat annoyed that I never went to a ‘real’ high school, that I could never easily explain to people what school or what kind of school I went to, I’m still proud and grateful to have graduated from VPSA. Despite the odds, despite the harrowing distance, despite the unorthodox method of education, we made it to the EOTYG one last time and graduated together.

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I’m a little biased, but VPSA, the class of 2016 was the best class you will ever have.

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“You Have It All Together,” People Said.

Today’s blog post is brought to you by Erica.

I’m obsessed with being busy.

Last year, during the first semester of my junior year, was perhaps the pinnacle of my busy high school career. I was taking nine classes, working 9-10 hours a week, going to karate 9 hours a week, being tutored for 6 hours a week, and participating in a school club (the Planning for College Club, no less).

It wasn’t the busyness I loved; it was the reactions I got. I’d gotten so used to people raising their eyebrows in amazement when I rattle off the things I do, to people telling me “wow you have your life together”, to people telling me they could never do it themselves.

Jokes on them—I couldn’t do it either.

With only 2-3 hours a day to do homework, it never actually got done. Homework was always this perpetually unending flow of assignments, this cascading river that would never dry out. Eventually I learned how to prioritize, and by prioritize I mean figuring out the ultimate bare minimum I could do for each class in order to still get good grades. The grading system was a game, and I was forced to play. Soon, each day was turned into skimming assigned reading, turning in my first drafts of papers, and pretending I had it all together when I really, really didn’t. The only thing that stayed pretty were my grades—but the person behind those grades was crumbling.

I was in highest honors—you know, that small group of VPSA kids that applied to that one program, signing away their lives and agreeing to take a miserably large amount of classes with a bajillion requirements and hardly any breathing room, including those that felt like death (like Organic Chemistry and Calculus II.) Even the name “highest honors” comes along with an air of elitism and precociousness and an inferred obligation to maintain that air. The obligation was simple: talk about your stress, talk about your busyness, but never, never talk about how it was taking a toll on your sanity, how it was making you crack, or any other thing that would let people know you were anything else but an academic Super(wo)man.

“You have it all together,” people said. And I would smile. They’d never know how many times in the past week I stared at a blank wall wanting to just stop trying or how many times I pulled all-nighters because I didn’t have any time to do homework during the regular hours of the day. They’d never know how many times I was able to count the hours of sleep I got on one hand because I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep, or how many times I sat in Calculus class shaking and staring at my blank notepad because I couldn’t understand a thing my teacher was saying. I felt stupid, incapable, and fraudulent, but no one knew.

Life was, for me, about waiting to hit the bottom so I could bounce back up again. Buried under my hectic schedule, I kept waiting and waiting for the school assignments and responsibilities to become too much so I could finally crack under the pressure and have a breakdown so I could reevaluate my life and take a breath and slowly begin the upward climb. My life would then subside, and things would get better, till the busyness kicked in again and the cycle repeated.

It went on for months. Sane, surviving, stressed, breaking, broken, repeat.

I would be fine.

Then things got rough.

Then I was holding on.

Then I was flying off.

And I fell off.

And it repeated.

The cycles always lasted a few or several weeks. I still remember, because during my mini breakdowns I’d pour out my stress into a Word document and save them, and sometimes even now I go back to them and read them. I wish I could’ve told myself it would get better.

I knew there was a problem, but it was an ego thing. I liked having a busy schedule and the impressions and reactions it created. It gave me hope that one day it would all pay off. People telling me I “had it all together” fed my ego, and that ego drove me and blinded me and kept me on that toxic cycle.

So I kept lying to myself, day after day, week after week, about my capabilities. I kept telling myself to fake it till I made it and that if I believed I could then I could. I continually believed I could work for hours on end without a break, I could do without studying for this test, I could write a paper in two hours and I could live with 5 or less hours of sleep a night.

But one day, at the cusp of one of my breakdowns, I was ranting to my friend about my stress levels, and she, fairly bluntly, told me I had to start doing something about it. I had to get rid of things. I couldn’t do everything.

And I fought back. I didn’t like being told that I couldn’t do everything—I don’t think that’s something anyone likes to hear. She, being a brutally honest friend who didn’t really enjoy seeing me throwing myself repeatedly into the same hole, and I, being a brutally stubborn person with an ego bigger than the Great Wall of China, clashed and clashed.

But after a couple more hours of conversation, I began to realize she was right. My ego protested, but my sanity followed through. And so I shaved off the lesser responsibilities, stopped taking more on, and began to reevaluate everything I was doing. The upward trend had begun.

That wasn’t the end of the craziness however—I still had a lot of hell to go through after that. But I fought my way through. The only way out was through, and with gritted teeth I drove through those ACTs and SATs and APs and midterms and finals and everything else until it was all over. It was brutal, and the second semester of junior year was even worse than the first, but it was the first time I started looking forward instead of down.

And at the beginning of that second semester, several people were dropped into my life—and they couldn’t have appeared at a better time. They were the sources of laughter and sarcasm and undying support, the sources of encouragement and reassurance, the sources of Skype study sessions and late night conversations about whether a camel milk company would be a viable business idea. They were a distraction, a good distraction, from school and life, and a good reminder that not everything revolves around being perpetually busy. The end of junior year was messy, but they helped me get through.

And here I am, in my senior year of high school. School is still crazy, don’t get me wrong, but I’m happier. I have more breathing room, more time to sleep, more time to do homework and more time to actually read books and take them in instead of skim them. My weeks aren’t spent waiting to hit the bottom anymore; my weeks are spent constantly awaiting the new things life will bring.

I’m thankful for those occasional Thursdays where I can take three hour naps, for those school nights where I can afford to go to bed by 10:30, and for those friends that will Skype with me till 4am. I’m thankful for all those trips, adventures, and bevy of memories that were created all because people helped me realize my life needed a little breathing room. And I know it’s crazy, but when I woke up for class every day this week at 6am sharp, I was well-rested and didn’t feel like murdering anybody. I wasn’t able to do that junior year.