by Rachel Jane Insull
Crouching at the foot of the check-in desk at the San Francisco International Airport to unzip my suitcase, I noticed the long line of agitated travelers waiting behind me. I know that I am holding up the line, but unfortunately there is nothing that I can do about it, for the disgruntled man at the other side of the desk who clearly does not enjoy his job has told me that my luggage is four pounds too heavy.
I rummage through various toiletries and items of clothing until I reach the bottom of my suitcase, where I pull out two textbooks: one for psychology and the other for U.S. history. Although it is summertime and school is no longer is session, my work is not over.
In fact, it is never-ending.
I was given three different summer assignments, all of which I brought on my family vacation to West Winch, Norfolk, a small village in Eastern England where my grandparents and other members of my family live.
Visually, it is by far the most stunningly beautiful place that I have ever been to, but on this particular visit, I did not get to see as much of it as I have in the past. I was confined to my uncle’s office, busy scribbling down notes while filling out quizzes and worksheets and reading books.
If you talk to students who take AP and honors courses, you will find that their breaks are like my own: saying no to friends who are going to see a movie, missing out on spending time with family, trying to balance school work with sports or drama or a part-time job.
We point our fingers at the teachers for giving us year-round work and tests and quizzes, but it is important to remember that we knowingly signed up for a rigorous load.
It is the fault of a deteriorating educational system that makes it seem necessary for students to punish themselves by taking multiple AP courses, on top of multiple extracurricular activities, and multiple volunteer hours.
It is a system that brainwashes us into thinking that if we don’t take this particular class or don’t do this activity, then no college will give us the time of day, and we will end up a miserable failure.
It wasn’t until this summer when trapped in an English farmhouse that I realized that this isn’t the case.
I look back at my sophomore year of high school as this insane dream of which I can only remember bits and pieces, probably because I spent most of it in a sleep deprived state of worry. I don’t really know why I willingly chose to take such difficult courses, but this year is different because I have come to accept the simple truth that I am not a superhero. None of us are.
There is a place for regular human beings out in the world where the score we get on our SAT and the grade we received in ninth grade geometry does not define our future.
Throughout our four years of high school, it is important to work hard, but it is also important to follow what we love because somewhere out there, your passion for art or knitting or playing the xylophone or whatever the heck it is that you are amazing at will count.
My mom always tells me that if I wanted to go to college and study underwater basket weaving, she would totally support me—because if that is what I loved, I would find a way to make it work.
Even though I do not have an interest in underwater basket weaving, I find my mom’s words comforting because I know that whatever it is that I decide to pursue, there will be a place in the world where I can pursue it.
Maybe it won’t be at Stanford or Yale or some other fancy school, but it will be a happy place because I will be doing what makes me happy.
And that is finally good enough for me.
by Rachel Jane Insull