by Victoria Subritzky-Katz '17
Head of School, Faculty and students, lend me your ears, or more specifically, your minds.
For I want to open today and the rest of the year, with some contemplation. Though it's early, and I'm sure that this the last thing most of you want to hear, this is important. I want each of you to think about why you are here. Why did your family spend the resources to bring you here? A small all-girls school in, let's face it, the middle of nowhere Massachusetts. What is it that you want to gain from your high school experience? We only have one shot at high school, there are no do-overs, so this is something we really do need to think about. Your first response might be that you are here to get an education. You came here to get a good education, a good GPA so that you could get into a good college so that you can get a good job and then your real life can begin. But don't wait until then to start living and enjoying life. Don’t get lost in the vortex of academic pressure and stress. Don't let yourself get trapped in a mind set where the only thing you're trying to get out of your time here at SBS is a good GPA and some strong recommendation letters, because this place is so much more than that and it can give you so much more than that.
Of course that's easier said than done, but I know that I wish I had realized that much earlier in my academic career. Most of my 9th and 10th grade years were wasted obsessing over the race for academic perfection. Too many free periods, sleepless nights, lunch hours and whole weekends were engulfed in work and stress. And yes, I got good grades, but I lost part of myself along the way too. Any small gains were not worth the sacrifices. Ironically, I eventually became so stressed about academics that my academics began to suffer. I don't want any of this to happen to any of you.
I remember one family holiday when some relative asked me what I was doing these days other than school, and I found I had nothing to say. They wanted to know my interests, my passions: who I was And I honestly didn't know, because all I had done up until then was school. I had no time for anything else.
That's when I began to realize that this wasn't healthy and I truly wasn't happy. So when junior year rolled around, I made a point of, although not neglecting my studies, making time for other things in my life and for myself, and I was much happier. Not to mention my academics actually improved now that the stress had been alleviated.
It is still important to work hard in school, we are here to learn and do well, but there is a difference between working hard and letting stress get the better of you. Work productively for a few hours a day, not stressfully and sporadically the whole day. Know that if you have a test the next day, it is more important to get a good night's rest then poring over your notes at 3 a.m. trying to cram in every possible fact. When you're writing an essay for a class, think about what you want to say and how to organize it and then say it. Don't overwork it; let your ideas shine through and give yourself time for other things.
The workload can seem like a lot here; it is. This is a demanding academic curriculum, and it is important to do the work because we are an academically driven institution, but don't let it get the best of you. I look out and I see so many amazing and talented individuals, I don't want any of you to have that spark crushed out of you by academic pressure. Yes, it is important to do well in school, and all of you are so smart and gifted. I know you can amaze your teachers and maybe even yourselves with what you can do, but you are important too.
Don't ever let your GPA be a number that can define you. You are more than a number.
Some of you might be thinking that your stress is justified because you need to get good grades to get into a good college. But remember your college application is not just your GPA; that is only one element. When you sit down to write your college essay about "who you are," don't be left staring at a blank page wondering how to define yourself beyond your grades. Don't be left wondering what happened to the last three and a bit years of your life.
SBS fosters a sense of lifelong curiosity and a love for learning; it's about the long term invested interest and passion for understanding and knowledge, not a four year sprint of late nights cramming in facts only to be soon forgotten.
Don't let yourself be caught up in a race to do well in high school only to get into a good college. Because then once you get to college, all you will be doing is racing to do well enough to get a good job or get into a good grad school. Stop racing and start enjoying life now. You worked hard in middle school or even elementary school to get here, so enjoy being here.
Take advantage of all the tremendous experiences you could have here. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
Stoneleigh-Burnham really does have a lot to offer; there are so many opportunities and experiences available here. If you've always wanted to take art but worried that you might get a bad grade, take the art class. If you’ve only ever danced but would love to try a team sport, try your hand at lacrosse or soccer. This might be one of your last chances to do it. Now is when you get to try new things and make mistakes and figure out who you are and what you want to do with your life, so don't get weighed down with academic stress.
In ten years, you are not going to remember what grade you got on that one history paper or that math test; you are going to remember the memories and friends that you made.
Teachers, faculty, any adults in the room, raise your hand if you can remember your exact high school GPA. Now raise your hand if you can remember a friend that you made or a new experience that you had in high school. That is why you shouldn't spend all your time on the first thing, when the second is the one that will stay with you for years to come.
So, the answer to my opening question about the main purpose of high school is not a good GPA, is not a good preparation for college, is not even a good education. While all of these are important elements, they are not the main thing; the main thing is you, You are the product you are after; a better, smarter, more well rounded, more worldly, happier version of yourself.
So don't let anything jeopardize that, don't let anything jeopardize you.
I know carpe diem can seem cliche, but that's because most people interpret it wrongly. They think that it is telling you to be a thrill seeker hooked on adrenaline, but what it translates to is: live the day. And that is a message worth abiding. Live your life, and it is your life, to the fullest. Embrace the unknown, take risks, do things you never thought you could, and don’t let the fear of failure whether academically or otherwise hold you back.
I want to end today with a call to arms, not to march forward and conquer some obstacle, but to live. Purely and simply live. Live your life as you are and who you want to be, in this incredible place surrounded by these incredible people. Every single one of you can do amazing things and be an amazing person, so don’t let anything, least of all fear of a bad grade or academic stress, get in the way of being all that you can be.
Don’t live just for the future but live for today, the now, this very moment. Because in a second, this moment will be gone. You only have one chance at every moment, one chance at life, so don’t let it pass you by.
Grab life by the horns and don't let go, go out there and live people, seize the day, carpe diem.