personal, time capsule

*Junior Reflections!

What a year! I haven’t been blogging lately because I was crushed under a mountain’s worth of homework and activities. Now that AP exams are over, it’s time to dissect this year, one piece at a time. An overarching buzzword to describe this past school year: fatigue. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have done, from AcDec to UIL science to schoolwork (yes, I enjoy school), but there is such a thing as too much. I constantly felt the burden deep down within my heart of overloading myself. Maybe six AP courses were too much to bear in one year! However, I can’t imagine myself in a different lifestyle in terms of my academic load; I can’t stand being bored in class, filling in inane worksheets and completing using bubble maps or outlines or annotations. Perhaps I would have toned down my involvements outside of school–only through the agony of junior year have I figured out the ineffable, inherent beauty behind reading endless articles on

An overarching buzzword to describe this past school year: fatigue. I have thoroughly enjoyed everything that I have done, from AcDec to UIL science to schoolwork (yes, I enjoy school), but there is such a thing as too much. I constantly felt the burden deep down within my heart of overloading myself. Maybe six AP courses were too much to bear in one year! However, I can’t imagine myself in a different lifestyle in terms of my academic load; I can’t stand being bored in class, filling in inane worksheets and completing using bubble maps or outlines or annotations. But perhaps I would have toned down my involvements outside of school–only through the agony of junior year have I figured out the ineffable, inherent beauty behind reading endless articles on The New York Times, drinking a cup of tea on the balcony, munching on a five-dollar picnic on a breezy lawn, or stargazing on the high school track. The beauty of life lies in its simplicity.

I’ve met some truly wonderful people this year. AcDec has proved to be even more rewarding that I would have thought. The ironclad bonds that I have formed with my teammates and coaches will last a lifetime; in the deepest of despondencies, I found laughter, joy, and hope through our various shenanigans. For this, I missed Area C (a local classics competition) and prom, but AcDec was definitely worth it. There’s something about a week-long “hotel arrest” that creates friendships and memories any other activity will never even begin to attempt. Within school hours, I sought refuge in the Davenportian cove on a daily basis. Those dim lamplights harbor me from my worst anxieties and fears, my problems and conflicts on the outside world. Inside lies a comforting, motherly warmth, stocked with wit, sarcasm, and empathy. I’ve been shaken to my core time and time again from the conversations, some more profound than others, that took place in WC105. Nothing else has made more of an impact on my transition into adulthood.

Friendships: some wither, and some grow. It was only natural that I strike up new camaraderie with completely new peers and lose the kinder that lighted my past few years. I not only kept up but also strengthened my relationships with most of my peers, and this provided solace for the torturous path of high school. One remarkable shift is my detachment from the drama of my peers; this change has improved my mental health and my outlook on the future. Fewer love triangles and catfights mean less myopia obscuring my vision of the world around me.

Some lingerings of apprehension about the summer ahead haunt me: I’m doing a lot. Research daily for 8 weeks, once-a-week hospital volunteering, Camp CAMP… I am not afraid to let some of these commitments grow in order to more passionately pursue a few interests. There need not be a sampling plate of amuse-bouches, but rather a hearty steak to dine on. Regardless of what I manage to do, I remain optimistic about where I am heading.

personal, time capsule

*KD Dallas–Singin’ the SAT Blues

Karen Dillard’s College Prep–THE SAT, ACT, and college preparation company that’s been in the DFW area for more than 20 years now. A staple in the eyes and ears of the blessed children of Plano, Dallas, Colleyville, and Frisco. The ubiquitous yellow binders signify an era of intense competition in the noxious college app environment, the pervasive anxiety in middle-class circles, and the indelible socioeconomic inequality in the US that starts from the womb and ends at the grave.

It’s been around a month since the KD Dallas office closed. I started going to this location since the summer prior to freshman year. Although it seems ironic that I’ve developed such an attachment to this tiny elitist prison (Lilliputian doesn’t even begin the description of each room), I have made new friends, both peers and teachers. I’ve matured mentally here, grown up here; and learned just a bit too much about the state of standardized testing here. At this turning point, I’d like to take a wandering stroll down Memory Lane for a second or two.

———————–

My first day is hard to remember. It all started out with the view from the picture below. The “Command Central” consists of two to three people standing at the front desk ready to help, albeit usually talking amongst themselves most of the time. (This desk seems cute in comparison to Plano’s.) On that fateful day, I coincidentally saw two of my classmates, which helped soothe my nerves. After getting set up, I headed down the hallway shown below to my first ever experience here: orientation, which took way too long for a restless middle-schooler. Workshops? Practice Tests? Classes?? Vocab “lab???” I felt even more enervated. All I could do was read each email KD sent me over and over again. I hoped for the best.

Unexpectedly, I did receive the best. That summer I started classes at KD. They were rather uneventful; however, the school year brought new friendships with the instructors and strengthened old ones with classmates from school. Sometimes after workshops, my friends and I would go to Subway, where we would laugh and talk until our parents grew antsy and picked us up.

Sophomore year came along; these are the times that I remember most clearly. I got to know more of my instructors even better and gradually began to joke around with the “command central” (i.e. front desk) workers and even directors. Waking up early Saturday mornings to eat breakfast at the nearby Einstein’s and later to attend two-hour workshops and became a part of my weekly routine.

One day, I was mindlessly working on the vocab lab, which I had already completed through once, when I bumped into one of my closest friends–surely enough, as in a chain reaction so familiar to us chem geeks (we met in freshman chemistry), more and more of my classmates started to come to KD as well (probably just part of the mold we’re subjected to in HP)! I realized that workshops were so much more bearable with friendly smiles, so we created a group text to coordinate our attack on the SAT. The hours spent in this prison (Exhibit A: grey-painted brick on the interior) turned around from near dread to delight.

(Side note: this place reeks with the stench of the classic SAT: the restrooms are decorated with erudite vocabulary words that high school students used to memorize. Glad those days are over!)

 And here we come to this day, a new leaf has turned… or more accurately, has moved twenty miles north into the heart of Texas-sized suburbia. Ever since the Dallas KD location closed, I’ve been stuck at the Plano location–a giant icebox full of teenagers on the brink of bawling out the next Biblical flood, according to one of my Dallas instructors who moved with me to Plano. (A note about the temperature: when I say it’s freezing, I mean you could store ice cream and it wouldn’t melt. In each room, the AC is cranking out a cool 60 degrees, and a ceiling fan AND sometimes a side fan are on full power. If they paid less for their energy bills, maybe we could pay less as well!) Every so often I get to see a familiar face: ANYONE from Dallas I welcome with a smile, greeting, or even a warm hug. It’s hard to find sane people in that strip mall, but we’ll deal (hopefully) until the end of this year.

To end on a positive note, I have met some amazing and über-qualified teachers, whose professional experience ranges from copy editor to mechanical engineer, some of whom have been teaching for decades now. I’ve met even more great people on my test prep journey… and perhaps a penguin here and there.

-MX

Note: Some of my favorite teachers include: the WS game lady who lowkey got fired and who I saw at Einstein’s more than once; Bryn, whom I am friends with on Snapchat and who carries a sizzling watermelon purse; York, the one and only chill teddy-bear; Donna, my lovely Southern jean-jacket wearing snail; Debby, the one with no chill whatsoever; Michael Wang, who’s lowkey intimidating 🙂

personal, time capsule

*Sophomore Reflections

It’s been two weeks since school ended and a week of Latin summer school completed; now is a good transition–a time to reflect on what happened this last year at HP.

First impressions? The most conspicuous difference from freshman year to sophomore year was the addition of AP courses. I took four this year (Biology, Chemistry, Calculus, and World History), which wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. Along the way I’ve met great teachers who go beyond what is called for in order to instill a newfound understanding and appreciation of the classes they’re teaching: Mr. Sanders made sure we were awake first period by telling the most *dad* puns I’ve ever heard in my life, Ms. Leediker roasted us from the first core lab (which actually involved a titration, so it’s not exactly biology) and never stopped, Mr. Chuang burnt sugar on fire for us in Chemistry, and Dr. Wright greeted our Calc BC class with a smile every day. The teachers in my life have continued to make a difference in all of the students’ lives (including me!) and have inspired me to give back to my community as they have. I’m now interested in taking a few classes in history or linear algebra two years form now in college, even though it has nothing to do with my planned major (biophysics? biochemistry? chemistry? something like that).

Another wonderful addition to my life this past year was participating in my school’s U.S. Academic Decathlon program, endearingly referred to as “AcDec.” AcDec was another very conspicuous addition to my already-hectic schedule (I only go home at 3:30 on Fridays >__<). On top of Monday afternoon meetings that regularly go to 5, AcDec required me to read at least 1 to 2 hours a day outside of other homework from my other classes. On top of all of this, the overarching topic was “India,” something I knew next to nothing about (I probably know more about you than I did about India before this year!) However, I can say that I’ve truly enjoyed every minute absorbing more foreign culture than I could’ve ever hoped for (except Social Science: that was a pain). I also memorized a painfully-awkward speech, wrote numerous bland essays that somehow scored well, and took part in interviews with deceptively-friendly faces. The best I got out of this program so far is definitely the new friends I’ve made for a lifetime! I’ve never met such a concentrated group of smart and funny people in my life. Go Decathletes!

This was also my first full year of Student Council (last year I was stuck in Latin most of the time). Every day I looked forward to meeting with this lovely bunch, especially the freshmen (freshmen!!?! We’re supposed to avoid them like the plague, but some of them are better than what you’d think). We started and supported many projects, old and new, especially Project Purple, which seeks to reduce alcohol and drug use among the high schoolers in our community. I’m also really proud that we’ve paired up with many wonderful organizations, some of which have been started by HP alumni, including Bonton Farms, Project Starfish, and One Million 4 Anna. What I enjoyed the most was my “family,” composed of two seniors (our “moms”), one junior, two sophomores, and one freshmen. We got to eat off-campus and hang out, and I’ve never felt so carefree and relaxed. I’ll hold these memories dear to me for a lifetime!

A last note about the club with the most explosions: Applied Science Club. To be honest, initially, I was afraid the hours I spent on my cathode ray tube would be wasted, time that could have been spent on AcDec (I’m totally not a nerd..psh…). Instead, opening myself up to the club and its members have been wise choices, as I’ve gained hands-on knowledge on building my own gadgets and have had some interesting, memorable experiences.


Finally, less formal than a school organization or club, my “squads” have been there for me! I loved solidifying our bonds and making a few new friends as well–they make life in high school much better than it seems. They’re glial cells to my axons, peanut butter to my jelly, vitamin D to my calcium. Graduation was especially bittersweet, as in a few months, I won’t see some of my best friends lurking the hallways of this high school anymore. One senior said to me, “See you in the afterlife,”… I hope to see them before that!

P.S. I’ve just thought of another observation: compared to last year, even though this year’s teachers were fantastic, I still feel that I haven’t connected as much with my classmates, teachers, and courses. I distinctly remember one day in second semester of WHAP that I thought to myself, “When will I stay becoming conformable with this class? I still feel like it’s the first day of school.” Maybe it was just the unadulterated fascination with high school as a freshman last year… all I hope for next year is a renewed sense of belonging.

opinion, time capsule

*Edited version of “Be a Stargirl”

Hello,

As I’ve looked back on my blogposts, I’ve realized how much I have grown (will expound upon once school ends). One piece really stuck out to me: “Be a Stargirl.” I know can see the pure (almost obnoxious) naïveté of my freshman years. Now I’ve learned to craft, to mold, to pinch a distinct form for my writing, and not just a swish of a paintbrush. So here goes, a revised version of one of my very first posts here:

Eccentricity, believe it or not, is not just used in conic sections. Neither is it just anti-war student protesters of the 70s, vegan automobile-boycotters in hipster-land, or vagabond artists whom we tend to associate with this term. We may think of these more extreme examples, but non-conformists live all around us and end up fundamentally changing the world.

The twisted brother of eccentricity, conformity hits close to home. For example, in our town, young girls run in hordes in matching, oversized Cotton Island T-shirts. In middle school, baggy athletic shorts are the must-haves for boys. Both male and female high-schoolers wear the same few brands as well—so different in their dress and yet so similar in their willingness to mindlessly jump on the rickety bandwagon.

Another community has a similar issue: the setting of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Jonas, the protagonist, lives in a world without hunger, war, or uncertainty but also devoid of color, love, and music. His life in this dystopian community is merely a shell of himself. Jonas takes special pills to hide romantic feelings, and his thoughts and actions are the same as everyone else’s—nothing distinguishes him from the rest of the citizens. However, this all changes when Jonas is selected (without his input) to be the next “Receiver,” the sole human repository of all past memories, ranging from pleasant to heartbreaking. With these powerful emotions instilled in him, Jonas peels off the veneer of his home, uncovering the ugly truth of his hometown and its complete suppression of the human soul. After realizing the disaster of homogeneity and the eery orthodoxy in his former home, Jonas flees; he jeopardizes survival for a taste of living as a unique individual, and not like a grain of sand in a dust storm.

Although the world we live in will never be as monochromatic as the “sameness” sphere in the novel, the story still inspires me and thousands of others across the world to pick Dr. Pepper in Coke vs. Pepsi, to think outside of the shackled box we live in. The Giver reminds us to enjoy the adventure of free expression that we take for granted.

Non-conformity make real-life global impacts too, not just in some fictional dystopian town. If our history on Earth were a book, the dog-eared pages would be ones written by non-conformists—those who dared to say that our planet wasn’t flat or wasn’t the center of the universe, those who argued that humans could go into outer space, those who refused to let go of their seats to another man just because of his race. Non-conformists have brought exciting innovation and radical transformations of our understanding of our natural surroundings, our society, and, most importantly, ourselves. They remind us to take off any masks we put on and provide a key to unlock our real personalities and passions embedded deep inside of us.

Then again, you don’t have to be anyone extraordinary or seemingly-superhuman to reject the status quo. Right here, everyone can participate in making our high school and community-at-large a welcoming haven for acceptance of everyone. Our community doesn’t have to be just a simple drawing of uniform blue and gold; it can, and should, be a vibrant mosaic of many different colors and shapes and patterns. Our community shouldn’t be a single tuning note; it can develop into a symphony of different sounds and rhythms and textures. It should be a celebration of who each one of us is.

In a famous scene of the movie Dead Poets Society, the English teacher John Keating leads his students to walk outside in the courtyard. Soon, they are walking together, and everyone is clapping to a singular beat. Keating then tells his students that conformity is easy, but going against what your friends are doing is hard. He challenges them to walk at their own pace and to stride in their own beat.

My challenge to you? Dare to be different.

personal, time capsule

*Freshman Reflections

It’s the Fourth of July weekend, which means summer barbeques, slices of watermelon wider than your head, a lazy afternoon by the pool, and some fireworks to cap this day off.

This long weekend also means that it has been a little over a month since the conclusion of my first year in high school. I’ve decided to write some reflections, and the * in front of the title means this post will go in the “Time Capsule” category. Hopefully, in a few years down the line, I’ll be able to look back and see how much I will have grown!

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of the past school year is the sheer number of new friends that I have met. I’ve been blessed to meet such wonderful people. It definitely took a while to grow out of that awkward middle school shell I was stuck inside of. Enforced by the traditional mentality of my parents…actually, just my mom, I’ve always been “friends” with peers of my own gender and, on the most part, race. It’s been nothing to think twice about until high school. However, as I acclimated to the foreign environment of high school, portrayed in so many different ways in the media I consumed before freshman year, I began to slip out of my old shell and discovered what was around me. I stopped lying to myself; instead, with my newfound openness, I managed to see the hidden treasures who were lying around me this whole time. More and more of my friends whom I felt I could spend an entire day with. They were also older–the upperclassmen, especially sophomores and juniors, welcomed my spectacular ways and allowed me to see who I really wanted to be. Someone who could see beyond the dizzying display of numbers of high school, the eery GPA, those sneaky grades, the first and second ranks–the data-crunching of our times. Someone who is honest, a bit sardonic, very sarcastic, and with just the right amount of wit. Someone who cares about not only himself and his piece of paper worth more than blood, fresh off the press, to send to various admissions officers who will forget him in a snap. It’s been great, those lunches filled with laughs and devoid of food, the after-school meet-ups at the local favorite, those discussions, wacky or not, we had everywhere in the school building.

Immediately after that thought came the next one, hand-in-hand with the previous one: how much have my classmates changed! Some have for the better (as you’ll see in the next paragraph), some for the worse (unfortunately, the more common of the two). It has been a gradual process, like prisoners digging a hole to escape with a single spoon. Just like this scenario, the effects are long-lasting and felt throughout the prison, or school (they’re basically synonyms). The hallways of the school are filled with rumors of every sort: who’s doing what for extracurriculars, who has the highest grade in bio, who’s smoking, who’s planning to take this-and-that course the next year… the list goes on and on and will do so until my classmates find something better to do. Such rumors have been drilled inside their heads as well, like a woodpecker, biting into the flesh and fabric of our unity as friends or even just people who can stand being in the same room. The grade-chasers, just as eager as the tornado-chasers of our Tornado Alley, hunt down every piece of juicy gossip and every way to bump that 96.6 to a 96.7–because that .1 difference will catch the eye of everyone who passes by and will drastically change your life. The lies, the back-stabbing, the back-talking throughout the school year could easily be part of the plot of a cheesy daytime soap opera. Except in real life, when Steve kisses Ashley, Debra can’t just kill Steve or she’ll go to DAEP; she has to spread rumors like butter on toast until everyone can feel the unctuous effect of the knife that kills all.

However, the Polaris of my path for understanding high school was also the last period of each school day: Chemistry I PAP TAG. It’s in this thriving environment in which I seek solace. It’s in this classroom in which I met so many new and interesting people whom I can connect to, including two of my fellow freshmen. I could write another blog post about this class, but I’ll just leave off with one word: life-changing.

Finally, a note about band. It was great for the most part, but I never felt quite included as the other kids. There were mentors and laughs along the way, but cookie crumbs can’t substitute the cookie. It’s time I see what life is like without.

Here’s to a merry year, a year of laughter and hope and friendship for all.

~MX