By Johanna Fleischman

On the first day of high school, at 8:20 a.m. on a cruel and bitter Wednesday, my Spanish II teacher inquired, “Como te llamas?”
What had she asked?
“Muy bien?” I replied, hoping she had asked how I was doing. She hadn’t. The class laughed, and my confidence crumpled.
At the end of my sophomore year, I dropped Spanish after reaching the third level because I had little desire to learn languages; however, I had wanted to satisfy the two-year language requirement that I would need for college.
All the uninspiring classes, the dull work hours, and my high school life had been dedicated to appearing well-rounded and attractive to prestigious universities.
Now, I will not even be attending college in the fall of
2011.
Although it is difficult to blame a college rejection letter for helping me make one of the best decisions in my life, I do. My attachment to a college I had applied to early decision—and from which I was later rejected—lent me a new perspective on my education.
Had my last four years of work paid off? And more importantly—had I enjoyed myself?
Yes, I had enjoyed myself. The long shifts at the movie theatre, the infuriating soccer coaching, and my challenging classes all lent themselves to experiences from which I have learned and grown.
Rejection from what I thought I wanted helped me take a closer look at my choices. My decision to take a gap year from high school, in which I will travel to New York and South America to provide service to various communities, excites me more than college ever could.
In an environment where college appears to be the only choice after graduating, the decision to take a year off felt uncertain. Instead, I have been greeted by enthusiastic teachers, curious peers, and the anticipation of a year of excitement, risk, and exploration.
During my employment at Boulevard Cinemas, one of my coworkers mentioned, “Your parents must be really successful, since you work so hard in school.” My family does well for itself now, I explained, but my mother only worked decades ago as a nurse in Europe and my dad did not even attend college.
But my parents are still the most successful people I know: they are happy with their lives. I fully intend to attend college after my gap year. However, choosing to schedule a time to find both a different kind of happiness and to develop a deeper understanding of my character is currently a priority.
My mother, born in Sweden, ended her global travels in America, and my father spent 17 years doing missionary service in Africa and the Philippines. My travels shy in comparison.
Life is bigger than college, than passing an exam, than working endless volunteer hours in the library rolling books to and fro and to and fro, then shelving them in the wrong aisle anyway.
Although I am taking a risk that few consider and fewer accept, I am excited.
I am excited for a year free of school and rich in uniqueness.
I am excited for success.