Defining Your Experience

September 04, 2017 by Guest Student Author

by Francelyse (Frannie) Joseph '18, the Dr. Paul Bassett Convocation Speaker

Firstly, I want to thank Sally for allowing me to speak to you all. Today, I hope to share some advice with the student body on how to make the most of your Stoneleigh-Burnham experience. I also hope to incorporate some personal anecdotes that have led me to grow as a student and as a person. College has been a topic on my mind every day since the start of summer, and I imagine the same is true for other seniors. If I learned one thing from the start of the college process, it's how much your own willingness to engage with your environment can define your experience. For those of you who don't know, I have a twin brother, which makes college touring a little more exhausting than usual. Even though my brother and I did not always have similar interests in schools, my mom would strongly suggest a.k.a. force us to visit the other one's school. It was actually through these conditions that I learned a valuable lesson.

Our tour guide at Hamilton College was genuine and honest about his experiences. The most important thing he said on the tour was a response to the question: "Why did you choose your school?" He replied that he knew he could be happy at almost any school. His happiness was primarily dependent on the opportunities he took and how willing he was to enjoy himself and engage with his peers. This was the first instance I recognized the importance of personal engagement in a community.

The second I found while procrastinating on working on my Extended Essay. I stumbled upon a YouTube channel called Cath in College. The channel follows the life of Cath, a senior at Stanford, by capturing snippets of her life. She says that "people come to her channel for Stanford, but stay for everything else,” which I think was completely true for me. Her viewers are mostly comprised of anxious high schoolers obsessed with discovering the secret to getting into their dream school. In a recent Q & A, a viewer asked what Cath’s top choice college was. She replied that she didn't have one. She said that she knew she could be happy anywhere she went. It was up to her to make her college experience.

I want to connect these two examples to how you can approach your life at SBS. I want to urge you to adopt the same mindset. Whether you are here for one year, four years, or six, make your experience what you want it to be. Your happiness depends on your engagement with our community. A few ways I think you can engage yourself are to join clubs, participate in weekend activities, seize opportunities, be a curious learner, and interact with your peers. I feel as though some of us are guilty (myself included) of not taking advantage of the opportunities here. We convince ourselves that a school so small must have limited opportunities when, in reality, the opposite is true. I urge you to try new things even if you don't think you are interested.

For me, taking advantage of opportunities at Stoneleigh-Burnham has consisted of pursuing leadership positions, attending academic programs, and joining a few clubs. I never thought I could be an effective leader due to my tendency to be more soft-spoken and introverted. However, I discovered this was not the case. I have been involved in Student Council for four years now and look forward to being an RA for the second year on DHC. I have also taken advantage of programs such as ASPIRE @ UMass-Amherst and Sonia Kovalevsky Math Day at Dartmouth. While learning about polymer science and math may not sound fun to you, exploring these areas allowed me to not only learn about the topic, but also learn about myself. I learned that polymer science was not for me, and that’s okay. I don’t promise that trying new things will always result perfectly. However, I guarantee you that you will learn something about yourself.

What’s the value of knowing yourself? I think that is something you decide individually. For me, it is important that I know who I am, so that I can make steps towards the person I want to be. I’ve found that SBS is one of the best environments to grow into yourself.

One way I have learned more about myself is through clubs. A couple of clubs I am involved in are Students of Color and Community Service, both of which have allowed me to spread awareness not only in our school community but also to larger communities. For example, through SOC I was able to attend the diversity summit at NMH, where we talked about a range of topics with students from another school. And in Community Service Club, I participated in the Source to Sea cleanup, to aid in the initiative to keep the Connecticut River clean. I hope my examples illustrate how easily one can be involved at SBS. New students, you will soon discover how easy it is to be involved and engaged in our community because you are surrounded by supportive people.

My advice for academic success is to work hard. I believe we all have the capability to succeed. However, sometimes we don’t put all of our effort in. It’s no secret that school is not always the most positive experience for some people. My advice to you is to find topics within a subject that really interest you. For example, in sophomore year in history class, we had to write a research paper. History is actually one of my least favorite subjects. To make writing the research paper less painful, I picked a topic I genuinely found interesting: fashion. I investigated how women’s fashion transformed in early 20th century America to embody the changing culture regarding the role of women in society. Now that I had a topic I was more interested in, the class was much more enjoyable. Although I was susceptible to just looking at pictures of outfits the whole period, I was so much more motivated to complete the essay. I encourage you, when possible, to find what your “fashion” is, that topic makes you more interested in a subject.

A weakness of mine is that I equate or associate my grades with my worth as a student. And one piece of advice I have specific to academics is to not let your grades define you. I encourage you to put a healthy distance between your being and the numbers. I like to think that your worth as a student is your ambition and inspiration to learn. A friend of mine from a summer program I attended wrote a reflection on our experience. An idea she shared, in my mind at least, is how we as students should build our educational environment. She “learned that you are valued less for your knowing everything and more for your wanting to learn more and grow.” The most valuable student is the one who has the passion for learning and improving. A valuable student is a curious learner. As Professor Michelle Hutchings said to my peers and me, “an intelligent person is never bored.”

I hope to leave each grade with advice I think will be most helpful for this school year.

My fellow seniors, I urge you to stop stressing. I recognize it is easier said than done, but please relax. I know most stress and anxiety lies in the college process, but I can assure you we will do just fine. I also want to suggest that you don't get too hung up on a rejection, deferral, or waitlist. Maybe it will make you feel better if I share that I was initially waitlisted at Stoneleigh-Burnham. Now, six years later, I'm giving a Convocation Speech at the very same school.

Juniors, the skill that will serve you best this year is time management. I get that procrastination is tempting and I myself often fall into its grasp. However, if you want to have “guilt-free” free time you must be on top of assignments. Also, remember you are surrounded by people who are experiencing the same struggles as you. I urge you to support one another. Also don’t forget to reward yourself for your hard work.

Sophomores, use this year to build your work ethic and try new extracurriculars. I hope you use your free time to explore areas of interest and continue to build upon the bonds you have with your classmates. I encourage each and everyone of you to make friends beyond a group of people who share the same culture as you. We are all extremely lucky to be among students from varying backgrounds. Take the time to learn about one another.

Freshmen, get to know one another and become familiar with what your teachers expect of you. Explore extracurriculars and slowly add them to your schedule. Enjoy your free time and do not hesitate to seek help when needed.

Eighth graders, enjoy each other’s company. Eighth grade year was actually one of my favorite years at SBS for its opportunity to socialize and build upon our class dynamic. I hope your trip to D.C. is as memorable for you as it was for my class.

Seventh graders, cherish humanities with Bill. No class stands so distinct in my mind as Bill’s humanities class. You have a power in that class that you may not necessarily have later in your academic experience, and that is the ability to choose almost entirely the topics you explore.

I hope every student takes away that your engagement with our community will make all the difference in your SBS experience. I urge you get involved through extracurriculars, become invested in your academics, and most of all get to know one another. And finally, take advantage of our community because I feel it is one of the best environments in which to explore your interests, who you are, and who you want to be. Thank you.

Written by Guest Student Author

Periodically students volunteer or are asked to write for the Stoneleigh-Burnham blog.

Filed Under: Convocation