The Real Lesson

I was sitting in class the other day, notes out, pen at the ready, when my teacher directed a difficult question at one of the students across the room. The student’s eyes widened in initial surprise and then fluttered in dismay as he frantically scanned the classroom, as if the answer were hidden in one of the posters pasted upon the walls. He stuttered a few incoherent words, and that was it. The student had no idea what to say. His face turned a deep, blotchy red, and he hastily scribbled down the answer after our teacher, somewhat exasperatedly, told our class. I just sat, staring dumbfounded at my desk. For the first time in my Russian 100 class, I had actually known the correct answer.

My Russian class, and most of the other classes at this school, requires more than the standard 30 minutes of homework and occasional studying which may have sufficed at many of our previous schools. Even coming from a so-called “prestigious” and “world-class” private institution, Andover was an overwhelming adjustment. I was thrust into an entirely new and exponentially more difficult environment that redefined my definition of “hard.”

At my old school, the classes were silent but for the chattering of students discussing the school dance, the gossip and the drama. Never once was a hand raised to answer a question or to make a constructive comment. During history, the boys would gather around an iPad, claiming to be “studying,” when in reality they were watching a lacrosse game. Little work was ever done. In fact, I prided myself on the straight A’s I received while rarely ever lifting a pencil. School and the entire idea of “learning” was a joke.

You can imagine what happened when I arrived at Andover as a nervous new Lower, unsure of my footing. I had been warned Andover was difficult, but really, how hard could it be? How could I, the student who had never received less than a 96 percent, do badly? Oh, if I had known just how wrong I was.

Andover can make even the smartest, brightest students feel like absolute idiots. I know that every student here has felt inadequate or unprepared at some point. For the rest of us, we arrived nervous, yet still confident in our abilities and with the belief that we could easily succeed, only to be served a piece of blueberry “humble pie,” as the notorious Andover Song so melodically lyricizes.

Throughout the year, I have been humbled and subdued by the sheer knowledge and intelligence of my teachers and classmates. Every day I learn something new and replace a preconceived notion or idea, whether a philosophy I unknowingly followed my entire life, torn to pieces by the complex discussions in my RelPhil class, or my study habits, which quickly proved to be ineffective. Andover has shown me that just doing the minimum will get you nowhere. At this institution, you must go above and beyond to succeed, a way of life which I have gradually begun to adopt.

Over this term, I slowly began to practice the philosophy that Andover preaches strongly, the philosophy of hard, hard work and true concentration. I went from being the student who spent her study hours browsing Facebook to the student who sits down and gets work done, despite the unfortunate and daunting reality that work at Andover is never really finished. At times, it has been an agonizing and excruciating process, and I, as I study late into the night when I could have been catching up on my favorite TV show, I have wanted to quit on numerous occasions. Most of the time, I find myself wondering why I am working this hard, putting myself through such a relentless onslaught. As students, what will we ever get out of all this madness, this frustration, the agonizing drudgery of the daily grind?

Through hard work, we can experience moments like I experienced in my Russian class, moments when we have truly achieved something through sheer determination. When I realized that I finally understood (at least a small amount) of Russian grammar, I realized an even larger truth, a notion that had been staring me in the face for months. It had been pounded into my head by countless teachers and beaten across my back by every motivational speaker, every philosophical quote and every piece of advice I had received, and yet I still had not fully understood it. It is the truth that no matter how smart you are, true success and happiness, in school and out, can only come through hard work.

Even if every advanced chemical formula, every mathematic equation, every short story and even every Russian grammatical structure passes over your head during your time at Andover, there is still one thing you reap from this school: knowing the power of determination and the success that comes with it. I had never known the answer to any of Mr. Svec’s questions with true certainty, but in class the other day, a result of weeks of assiduous studying and concentration, I experienced the first reward for my diligence. It was a powerful feeling I had never felt before: a true happiness that, for once, I knew the right answer.

As Mr. Svec, my Russian teacher, has told my class multiple times, he could not care less whether we learn to speak Russian or not. At first, this statement seemed maddening to me. What was the point of taking Russian if I would never learn the language? But now I’ve realized that the point of his class, and Andover as a whole, is to learn how to learn. Once you’ve mastered that, the Russian comes easily.

Katia Lezine is a new Lower from Winston-Salem, NC.