As summer draws to a close and we begin our senior year at CHS, we find ourselves looking back on who we were as incoming freshmen and how dramatically we’ve changed.
On the first day of freshman year, we walked into the building feeling nervous and out of place. Neither of us knew where any of our classrooms were, and we had to get directions from an upperclassman to our first period English class with Mrs. Hamilton. We made sure to avoid the main staircase on the way because, according to a friend’s brother, it was “only for juniors and seniors” (we later learned that this was completely false).
This was the first of many surprises that we encountered that year.
When I entered freshman year, I expected to be overwhelmed by new stresses and responsibilities. To me, the gap between middle and high school was a monumental thing; high schoolers, according to the mind of an anxious eighth grader, were adults, whereas I was still a child. My imagination was plagued with images of 20 page exams, caffeine-fueled all nighters and a stratified cafeteria class system. And while, realistically, the first few weeks of school were difficult, I quickly discovered that CHS was not the alien landscape that I expected it to be.
For starters, academics did not suddenly become an insurmountable challenge. I’ve yet to encounter a normal exam with pages in the double digits, and my bedtime typically lands around 9:30. I have never once pulled an all nighter, and I quit coffee near the beginning of my sophomore year. Most surprisingly, I only ever enter the cafeteria to buy the occasional orange juice, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to break down the social implications of its usual seating arrangements if asked.
However, above all, high school has taught me important lessons about myself.
In my first year at CHS, I was insecure in my own abilities and, even as I succeeded in most areas, considered my grades and achievements to be lucky flukes. Despite constant proof of the merits of my hard work, my anxiety before tests was almost paralyzing and I was perpetually convinced that I had failed.
It took comforting words from Mrs. Hamilton, pats on the back from my tennis coach, Rich, encouraging pre-test speeches from Mrs. Dobbert and support from many others to convince me that my efforts were good enough. These people have truly shifted the lens through which I view myself and my capabilities.
Looking back on my growth over these four years, I see the transformation of a nervous and diffident eighth grader into a self-assured adult. I think less about tests, allow myself to feel pride in my achievements and focus more on aspects of my life that truly interest me.
Going into high school, I imagined thousands of kids, all bigger and smarter than me, cramming past each other shoulder-to-shoulder between classes. I pictured a crowded New York City street, with seniors yelling, “Hey! I’m walking here!” and no underground subway to escape to. I felt like everyday would be like Black Friday shopping—everyone for themselves.
As a result of this warped view of what high school would be, I began to join things left and right: french club, medical club, volunteen, sports and, finally, newspaper. I had a friend who convinced me to sign up along with her. I thought that becoming a part of so many things would help this giant school seem a little bit smaller.
I remember having my first story idea. I was speaking up during one of the Globe lunch meetings, and I told Mrs. Sucher-O’Grady that I wanted to try my hand at something about the upcoming Centene construction. She smiled and told me that the Centene project would be the cover story for the issue. I nodded, feeling disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to cover my first idea. That is, until she clarified that no story opportunity was off limits to enthusiastic new writers, and invited me to work on it with a team of upperclassmen.
I had never felt more important than when I strutted up to the massive Centene skyscraper, dressed in tights and my mother’s blazer, to interview one of the corporate heads of a Fortune 500 company. My first interview was amazing, and I made friends with several of the once-intimidating upperclassmen.
Globe didn’t just make the school smaller; it made me bigger. The experiences that I’ve had on staff have allowed me to feel comfortable talking to strangers or starting up new conversations. Through this community, I found both older and younger peers to look up to and model myself after.
Needless to say, Clayton isn’t the disconnected microcosm of a busy city that I expected it to be. My peers work together rather than viewing the failures of others as personal successes. It’s a community of students and faculty alike.