“Bird by Bird”

My mother frequently soothed my brother, sister and me when we were younger with the saying “bird by bird.” It was a literary reference, but the idea was simple: tackle each problem one step at a time. Although I never thought much of the saying as a child, I adopted a similar phrase early on at Andover: “day by day.”

The days here can be long, drawn-out, tedious tests of personal will and mental fortitude, driven by endless caffeine consumption. As major assignments, athletic commitments and extracurricular demands piled up on my schedule, taking Andover one day at a time made everything more manageable and less stressful.

The downside to this is that, because I have moved through my career here by focusing on the present and near future, I have left myself little time for reflection on the past. Now, as my time here draws to a close, I will take this opportunity to finally reflect and offer my two cents on the “Andover experience.”

When the days can be 20 hours long and the nights a mere four, the weeks here can drag on. Yet these last four years have truly flown by. It seems like just yesterday that I was pulling up past the Bell Tower for the first time, playing “Think Fast” with my future classmates and attempting not to stumble over my words as I introduced myself to my peers and prefects for the first time.

Andover was massive. Everyone was intelligent, creative, artistic, athletic, intuitive and friendly. And I, frankly, was intimidated. But I was also inspired to be better. And, the stereotypical Andover overachiever, I decided that I would run for every leadership position, join every club, do community service project and try out for every sports team. Every second of my free time was consumed — and I couldn’t have been happier.

As I progressed through my Andover career and my workload intensified, I struggled to balance extracurriculars with classes. I stood at the same crossroads many of us arrive at as we decide how to make use of Andover’s most valuable resource: time. Much to my parents’ chagrin, I continued to participate in my clubs, play sport, sing and find new passions. Instead of focusing solely on my studies, I pursued leadership positions and more extracurriculars.

In my mind, working with my peers and pursuing my true interests were just as important as the more focused, academic side of my education. Was I over-committed and sleep deprived at times? Absolutely. Was it a good move for my GPA? Perhaps not. But with the exception of a few hours on April 1, when I rifled through my college rejection letters, I have never regretted this decision. Andover has given me something much more valuable than a college acceptance letter: it has taught me how to fail.

I will be forever thankful that I failed that first test, was cut from Varsity, did not get that call-back after an audition, did not make the Honor Roll, almost failed a class and lost an election. These moments knocked me down and forced me to feel real embarrassment and disappointment for the first time.

Thankfully, Andover has also taught me how to get back up — to harness my disappointment as fuel to reach my goals. My failures at Andover have shown me that I am not — and may never be — the best or the brightest student in the classroom, just as I am rarely the strongest or the fastest individual on the field. Andover has taught me to recognize my own flaws, but has also encouraged me to nevertheless strive for perfection. This drive has made me a better leader, a better student and a better friend.

Andover is more than a diploma, and, not to be cliché, but, to be cliché, Andover is more than just a stepping-stone to the Ivy League. I know that I will always cherish the lessons in leadership, accountability and responsibility that I have learned here, and I will deeply miss the friends I have made. I will be forever indebted to the faculty and staff who have helped me discover more about the world — and myself — than I ever could have thought possible four years ago. I will miss the camaraderie of the athletic teams I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. I will miss the freedom I have had to experience things outside of my comfort zone.

I will miss the small joys of Andover life that I hold so dear – staying up into the early hours of the morning with my dorm mates, contemplating the future; guitar lessons on Friday afternoons; listening to the ringing of the Bell Tower; driving to away games on the team bus; returning to Andover rejuvenated after a long summer and leaving after a successful and demanding year.

I will always be grateful for the lessons I have learned, for my successes and for my failures. Although I will enjoy the day when we join hands one last time on the Great Lawn, I will dearly miss everyone who has helped me become the person I am now. I will think of Andover frequently and fondly as I embark on the next chapter of my life.

_Clark Perkins is a four-year Senior from Fairfield, CT, and a Student Body Co-President._