The Real High School Experience

As Commencement approaches, a few underclassmen have asked me how I feel about graduating. Isn’t it weird, they wonder, that in a couple of weeks you will be done with high school? I have made my mark on this campus as a loudmouth and a firebrand, that kid who has an opinion about everything and feels compelled to share it with the outside world. On this issue, though, I have had a difficult time finding words or thoughts to describe my sentiments as time zooms towards June 3. To be perfectly honest, I am conflicted about graduating, just as I have been conflicted in the past couple of years about my time at Andover. I am obviously excited to be a part of the great Andover Commencement tradition. Ever since freshman year, I have waited patiently to stand on the Great Lawn triumphantly, with my diploma in one hand and a fresh cigar in the other. And yet, as my time quickly nears, I also feel a sense of longing and regret. I don’t feel as though I am ready to leave high school, because I am not sure that I ever really attended one. Andover is an amazing school and community to be a part of. We are all so fortunate to have the campus, facilities and faculty members that make this place tick, and no matter how stressful our lives here are, we should never lose sight of the bigger picture. But while trying to piece Andover into the bigger picture of my life, I realized how different my experience has been from that of a normal teenager at a typical high school. I concluded that Andover is not a real high school, and most students here have been deprived of the high school experience. Ever since my freshman year I have been referring to the Andover bubble without fully understanding how thickly it surrounds us. I was only able to break through this bubble when I brought a friend to campus in the fall. I gave him a tour of our social life: the library on school nights (if you want to be social), and Ryley Room every Friday and Saturday night. He found our lives here amusing; he pointed out that Andover is less like high school and more like summer camp with a lot of homework. Most American teenagers don’t sit in front of a TV at Ryley every weekend. Most American teenagers don’t go to their school library every weeknight to socialize. Even after four years at Andover, I don’t think that I have fully adjusted to life here. I have taken advantage of almost every opportunity that I could and participated in some activities and organizations that most kids my age can only try to imagine being involved with. My time as editor of the Commentary section of The Phillipian, the most independent high school newspaper in the country, is something that I will value for the rest of my life. I will never regret my time spent at Andover, but I often wonder what my life would have been like had I stayed in Colorado to become a high school student instead of the professional students that we are. Most importantly, I worry that I have missed out on some of the simple pleasures of being a high school student. I became inspired to write this piece while looking through an album of pictures on Facebook from freshman and sophomore year at home. I thought about all of the things that I have missed. I have never asked a girl to Homecoming. In fact, I have never even been to a Homecoming football game. At the age of eighteen, a legal adult, I am still denied some basic liberties by this school. I am restrained from doing anything spontaneous (Isn’t that half of what high school should be all about?). I can’t ever decide to “crash” at my buddy’s house on a Friday or Saturday night. To sleep off campus, I need to go through a complex process to receive an Overnight Excuse at least two days in advance. If I feel the sudden desire to go to Taco Bell at midnight on a Friday, I can’t. I would be out over an hour past our infant sign-in time of 11:00 p.m. Even if I wanted to go to Taco Bell during the day, I must first get car permission and then a day excuse for the five-minute drive into Lawrence. Eighteen years old and I can’t even get into my friend’s car without permission! That is just embarrassing. You can even get in trouble around here for holding a press conference at the Massachusetts State House in Boston with Treasurer Tim Cahill to promote fiscal responsibility, assuming that you forget to send out an e-mail to your cluster dean more than four hours before your event (my first PA censure!) All of these things that I have listed are small, but they are all a part of the high school experience. There is such a push at this school for the students to mature quickly into adults. We are supposed to not care about the fact that we rarely have any fun, because we are going to go to good colleges, and then go to good graduate schools, and then get a high-paying job. I fear that we Andover students push ourselves too hard, and when we turn thirty years old and have millions in the bank, we will pause to reflect on our youthful days and wonder where they all went. June 3 will inevitably mark the end of a chapter in the lives of all Seniors. I just hope that we have not written the wrong story.