vpsa

Veronica and the California Coast

by Erica

Veronica flew out to California to spend a week of Christmas break with me–a familiar routine in VP friendships. It was the first time she had come to CA since the summer after sophomore year, but I had begged her to come out as a late birthday present, and being the incredibly gracious friend she is, obliged. And so, for several days, we trekked about southern California, going as far as we could possibly go in a day’s drive.

The last time I saw Veronica, I was at the Newark airport falling to pieces—VPSA friendships and open-ended goodbyes will do that to you. We were going off to college, one in Texas and one in Massachusetts, none of us sure when our paths would cross again. Seeing her a mere six months later was a much less daunting wait than anticipated (a welcome surprise regardless).


So here we were, one semester of college under our belts, both with our different five-month stories to tell. Having spent the last few years of our life in the same classes with the same friends, hearing her spout off names of people I had never heard of was jarring at first. But soon, after hours in the car and in coffee shops and on beaches, our individual college experiences, and friends, and more-than-friends (@Veronica) seemed to come to life in each other’s minds.


In between the catching up on life, we went to Santa Barbara and San Diego, perused around Los Angeles, got caught in the rain in Long Beach, and spent hours upon hours every day driving in heavy traffic and on open road. This was home, and Veronica was high school, and for a small period of time, Texas and college and all the responsibilities and worries that came with them seemed so miniscule.


I soon said goodbye to Veronica and to California and headed back to UT, where I am again for yet another semester. But these goodbyes felt easier than the first time I left for college. Even though I again was leaving home for five months, and I again didn’t know if I was going to next see Veronica in three months, or six, or twelve, or eighteen, my heart rested easier this time, more comforted, and more hopeful.

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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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Senioritis

BY ERICA

I’m fading, and I’m fading fast.

I’m three out of four years, seven out of eight semesters, and 117 out of 128 weeks done with high school.

I remember when the countdown to graduation first began. The class of 2015 had just graduated, we were the new seniors on the block, and everything seemed promising. Saying “we’re graduating in 364 days!” seemed amusing to us because it seemed so far away; not real enough to really care, but close enough to hope. Now, here we are, filling out graduation forms, registering for graduation, sending in yearbook pictures and choosing senior quotes, and the prospect of graduating seems so real.

Yet oddly still so far.

It’s the oxymoronic phrase that has long been the bane of my existence: “so close, yet so far”. It seems unfair, high school’s last big prank on us students—getting us so close to taste the end, but still leaving us so far that we have to work for it.

The temptation now is to just give up. It’s not necessarily a full and total giving up, since we’ve come much too far to let our GPAs tank and our high school careers to plummet. It’s more of a “stop trying” kind of attitude, where in a world without repercussions we’d skip class and sleep all day and go to Starbucks every four hours and do all the things and have all the fun adventures we’ve always wanted to do in the last six months before we leave home.

The effects of this second-semester slump are becoming strikingly evident in everything. It’s evident in the sheer amount of passive aggressive smiley faces sent and received on a daily basis between seniors, in the number of times they complain about how they can’t wait to graduate, how they aren’t in the mood to deal with homework, and how they laid down for a 20-minute nap and instead slept for five hours.

This spectrum of senioritis, from the complete and utter not caring about high school to the “still does homework on time but without happiness and enthusiasm” is evident in nearly the entire grade, even in those good students with perfect GPAs and perfect participation grades who do their homework three days before they’re due.

After three years of college prep, after seven semesters of keeping pristine high school track records, after 117 weeks of preparing for and taking numerous standardized tests, the desire to stop trying is overwhelming. But it must be resisted.

I’m on my third time-management/homework system in the past four months. My life somehow is more structured and less stressful than ever, but it seems to take more willpower to get things done. Homework gets finished, but with less enthusiasm and less interest than it ever has. Going to class is more of a necessary evil to finish the semester with good grades than actually for the joy and purpose of learning new material.

I’m glad my weeks have become habitual. Going to bed, waking up, class, work, homework, and karate have all become so repetitive that I can go through my week without a second thought. Monday becomes Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then the process repeats again.

In ninety-six days we will be standing, shoulder to shoulder, in our blue caps and gowns, saying things like “I’m going to miss you all so much” and “I can’t believe we made it” and whatever other cliché yet admittedly heartfelt phrases are usually said at graduations. In ninety-six days it will be over and we will be talking about where we’re going off to college and how much we’re going to keep in touch and all of the other things normally said at the end of this phase in life. And in ninety-six days, this whole motivational slump will be over.

But we still have eleven weeks of school to go.

“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.

Boston, Massachusetts

>by Erica

Here’s one misconception about online school: doing online classes while on vacation is super easy and super convenient.

It’s not.

Straight off of a cross-country redeye flight, having slept a solid 3 hours out of the 5 hour trip, here I was sitting in a tiny, cold Starbucks in Boston on my laptop. Our hotel room wasn’t ready yet, and Starbucks being the only known source of free wifi, here I was, leeching off of their internet, cold, tired, and in no mood for a latte.

I was there for five hours. It would’ve been almost seven if my last class of the day hadn’t been cancelled, which was probably disheartening to most of my other classmates but came like an answer to my unspoken prayers.
Then there was the next day. I was thankfully in the hotel room this time, where heaters, sweatpants, and king-sized beds exist, but admittedly it was still difficult to stomach the fact that here I was, holed up in a hotel room, chained to my four classes while a brand-new city waited outside.

And so during the small sliver of time between classes, I put on my coat and headed outside, ducked into the country’s oldest graveyard and walked through the country’s oldest park, enjoying that precious time alone that I as the oldest of five kids rarely get.

As a resident Californian, it absolutely tickles my fancy (lowkey hoping Allison punches me for using that phrase) that so much history can be mixed into a major city. In Los Angeles you won’t find old graveyards or historic buildings every couple blocks, you won’t find old structures repurposed as more modern Starbuckses and Chipotles. Everything has a history in Boston, and I love that. Fresh off of studying the American Revolution in Omnibus, the history entwined in the city seemed surprisingly relevant.

We stayed in a hotel just across the street from the site of the Boston Massacre. I just learned about the Boston Massacre. I learned about its usage as propaganda in the American cause for independence. Through the many trolley tours and walking tours we went on, my admittedly school-obsessed self squealed inside, basking in the fact that there was no way for me to escape education even while on vacation.

Now for one thing, I was cold.

It wasn’t that cold, really, with the temperatures hovering in the low 40s most of the time, but as a Californian who owns nothing but shorts and tank tops I was disgusted at the idea of layering my clothes. But I soon learned the importance of warm clothes, and silently thankful for gloves and scarves, I made it through the week with minimal complaining and shivering and cursing the sun for not being very effective. And trust me, if I end up going to college somewhere cold, I will most definitely buy a good coat.

But it was fun.

In the craziness that life and senior year and college applications are, it was nice to take a short break and escape my responsibilities for a little bit in a place I had never gone to before.

From Your Friendly Neighborhood Homeschooler

by Erica

“Do you wish you weren’t homeschooled?”

If there’s any question I hate more than the “how do you make friends?” question, it’s that one.

Every time, my placid response of “eh, I’m fine with it, I’m graduating soon anyway,” seems to always disappoint. I don’t know what they want from me.

I suppose they expect some kind of emotional extreme—either I ought to burst into hysterics and crumple to the ground and rock myself back and forth as I tell them about how I wish I went to a real school, or I break out into a smile a mile wide as I talk about how I just love homeschooling and my siblings are my best and only friends and having my dad as the principal is just loads of fun.

And I guess my unemotional, halting response doesn’t ever cut it.

But that’s just it—I have no intense opinions about it all. I don’t dream of setting fire to public school buildings. I don’t dream of spitting upon non-homeschoolers and tattooing some pro-homeschooling mantras onto my forehead.

The reality is that I’ve never really thought much about what it would be like to go to a brick-and-mortar school, nor have I cared about thinking about it very much. What would be the use? I’m a senior in high school, nearly two decades into life and quite a ways into schooling, and thinking about what it would have been like to attend a real school for the past twelve years of my life wouldn’t change a thing. It’d just make me more disappointed, more restless, and more dissatisfied with where I am now.

I’ll be honest—I don’t like telling people I’m homeschooled. But it’s inevitable; for some reason school seems to always be the first or second or third topic that comes up when meeting someone the first time. The usual progression is “what grade are you in?” then “where do you go to school?” then I grimace and sway slightly and utter the phrase “I’m homeschooled” as quickly and unassumingly as possible and move the conversation on to something else.

Perhaps I don’t like mentioning that I’m homeschooled because of the all-too-popular connotations that come along with it. I’m sheltered. I’m antisocial. I have no friends. I’m a raging conservative. I wake up whenever I want and do school whenever I want. And overall it makes me sound like some weird person with impaired social skills who doesn’t have to work as hard or do as many things as the public-schooled equivalent.

“Oh, I go to an online school,” I say, trying to explain better my schooling situation.

“So you get to just watch the videos whenever you want?”

“No, they’re live classes.”

“Oh, but you can, like, walk your dog and play video games and sleep and do other things during these classes, though, right?”

“Well…”

“And you can basically just cheat on your tests because you’re not in a real classroom, right? Your teachers wouldn’t know.”

No matter what I say or how hard I qualify my schooling situation I can’t fully establish the fact that I too, amazingly enough, work hard and do things and am busy. I too take actual, live classes and have to deal with homework and projects (that are shockingly not assigned by my dad), I too have a job and have extracurricular activities, and I too have friends to do things on weekends with.

I too feel partially dead in the morning when I wake up at 6:15 for my 6:30 classes and have to deal with school-related stress.  It seems insane that a homeschooler could actually be stressed about school (because can’t I just ask my dad to change the due date or something?) It seems insane that a homeschooler could have a busy schedule (because aren’t homeschoolers’ schedules inherently flexible?) I don’t particularly enjoy letting people know that I’m homeschooled because it often times diminishes my academic capability/credibility in their eyes.

But I suppose that’s just people’s perception of my situation and not the situation itself.

All things being said, I’m happy with going to Veritas, I’m happy with being homeschooled, and I’m happy about the twelve years of education that led up to where I am now. There were some weird experimental phases of homeschooling that my dad went through, and some points where homeschooling definitely seemed like the most abhorrent thing I had been forced to undertake, but despite all that, I’m proud of where I am now.

Homeschooling is different. It’s different good and different bad and it definitely isn’t for everyone and I’m not going to wildly advocate it and say everyone should be homeschooled or go to VPSA and fall in love with it because not everyone will be satisfied with it.

But to answer your question: no, I don’t wish I wasn’t homeschooled.