I spend a fair amount of my time listening to Jimmy Buffett songs, so it won’t come as a surprise to those who know me that I can somehow tie my high school experience to a boat floating on the ocean. Ever since I heard “Margaritaville” on the radio as a three-year-old, I have turned to one Buffett song or another for a flash of inspiration, a laugh, or a quote that’s vaguely related to the assignment at hand. I’ve also spent these last four years trying my absolute hardest to avoid using cliché themes and phrasing in my English compositions; hopefully my streak won’t end in this last hoorah of an essay.
If, in terms of size and difficulty of navigation, elementary school is the pond in my backyard and middle school is the lake down the road, high school is the unpredictable ocean. You cautiously venture in, hesitant to face the whitecaps in the distance but excited to speed toward that distant horizon. Freshman year is a strange time to describe – by the time you hit the hallways for the first time, you’ve inevitably been scared to death by massively exaggerated stories of the big bad seniors and their vicious hazing parties. You might hit a little wave here and there, but it’s mainly smooth sailing through basic classes like Health and Sports for Life.
Most students will tell you that sophomore year is basically like freshman year, just a tiny bit harder and a little less exciting once, considering how long 9th grade dragged on, you grasp just how much time four years really is. I happened to hit my first storm in the summer before 10th grade, when my family moved to Clarksville and I, for some reason still unbeknownst to me, fell into the stereotype that every adolescent’s parents fear: the constant complainer. It didn’t stop at school; rather, it covered everything from my neighborhood to having to go to baseball practice. The calm after the storm eventually came, but sophomore year drifted by in an unmemorable fog.
I’d been dreading 11th grade since I watched my brother labor through six AP classes and a ridiculously long streak of sleepless school nights. Luckily, my junior year didn’t turn into the “perfect storm” that drives so many students to total loss of motivation. My four APs were challenging, but two of them were history courses with teachers I loved and subject matter that truly intrigued me. I hit a wave here and a wave there, but none of them knocked me too far off course. Like everyone else, I hit the college freak-out phase once the seniors starting getting accepted and rejected from the schools of their dreams. Luckily, my hysteria was temporary and surprisingly beneficial: I started my essays and applications months before most of my classmates.
Now, quite suddenly, senior year is upon me. I’ll knock on wood so as not to jinx National Day of Cruelty toward High School Seniors (also known as April 1, or the arrival of most college admissions decisions), but it appears that I’ve made it to calmer waters. I’ve avoided the biggest icebergs by surprising myself on the SAT and saving my best writing for my college essays.
The ocean has been an obstacle to discovery and fortune since the dawn of history. The explorers we’ll remember are those who crossed uncharted waters, eventually stumbling upon a helpful shortcut or a new continent. I’ve discovered new truths and sources of happiness for myself, whether they be political involvement or the study of history, by steering through the treacherous ocean of high school and getting through with my ship intact.
What fun is an ocean without waves, anyhow? You’ve got to get through the choppy surf to get to the open water. Now, having caught the winds of inspiration and a bright academic future in my sails, I set a new course for the distant horizon and beyond. After all, “some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic,” but I’ve got a sea to cross.