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Lessons learned, but not always in the classroom

Published August 11, 2006

I remember the days when I was a 14-year-old chump counting down the summer days in consternation, yet eagerly looking forward to the first day of high school.

I enjoyed immensely the free days of summer where I could roam endlessly with my friends across neighborhoods and into town, but I also fantasized about how it would feel to be in high school. The very title appealed to me, the prestige of it. I imagined my elders looking at me with a newfound respect now that I had made the transition between eighth and ninth grades. I imagined the spectacular attention I would receive from girls as a high school stud. I figured that my finally reaching the vaunted halls of high school would mean greater power awarded to me, as well as greater responsibility.

Entering high school would be like venturing into a whole new universe full of countless possibilities and doors that would lead to places unimaginable.

I anticipated all of this keenly - I longed for it in my bones. The things that I would be able to accomplish would be epic and earth-shattering. The knowledge I would gain would lift me to some higher level of understanding - of myself and of the world. I dreamed all day long about the miraculous things coming my way. It would all be perfect. The summer passed dreamily by in the bliss of these thoughts ...

An hour into my very first day, I realized with a sickening feeling that I had grossly overestimated high school. To my horror and dismay, I realized everything was the same, everything!

The teachers talked to me the same way, the girls ignored me the same way, there were the same petty cliques gathered into their separate stations in the halls, and as I wasn't 16 yet, I still had to ride the bus! By fate, or perhaps some evil design, even my batty old middle school bus driver had found herself a job as a high school bus driver, mine of course.

Walking in a building only slightly larger than the one I had just graduated from, I came to understand that making it to high school did not automatically signal some jump in knowledge, power or respect.

I would still have to do homework and pay attention in class if I was to get anywhere, struggling through it day by day. I would still have to obey my father in the same fashion, and the girls, well, I still didn't know where to begin with them.

So I stuck to it and labored for four long years through both triumphs and defeats. The responsibility and freedom I had dreamt of long ago came with time and work. I finally acquired my license and a car, and I eventually achieved a sort of autonomy from my parents. Most importantly, I came to truly understand that one's learning should never be finished, under any circumstances. As my high school graduation neared, I felt the familiar tug of anticipated power and freedom, but I held it in check, lest I be so disappointed again.

Now postgraduation, I find myself very excited about my future and the realization of my hopes and dreams. I have matured (though some would say otherwise), and so I keep my expectations in check with the caution and reserve that one only gains by living in reality. I am not pessimistic in any sense of the word, but I know that only through time and effort can I ever achieve my goals.

Whenever I think about going off to college, I smile as I remember the naive way I had anticipated high school. I expected that high school would be holy in its greatness, beautiful, majestic, perfect.

I expect now that college will indeed give me much more freedom, as well as responsibility, for me to learn and grow as a person.

It might even be the sort of independence I would have been satisfied with as a ninth-grader new to high school, but the beautiful thing is now I am prepared to handle it. The respect I craved from my elders I now receive, so long as I give it back, and the attention I wanted from the girls, well, I'm still working on that one.

Braden Hendricks graduated from Armwood High School this spring and worked as a Times intern this summer. He'll attend Duke University in the fall.

[Last modified August 10, 2006, 08:58:57]

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