Half an hour before I sat down to write this article, I was lying on my bed staring at the wall, terrified at everything I had to accomplish on this particularly busy Sunday. But here I am, writing this piece with as much vigor as I can muster, because I want to do it. I know that I want to do it. And knowing what I want is one of the greatest gifts this school has given me so far.
The dilemma that most Andover students face is how each of us wants to experience this school. Is Andover simply a powerful stepping stone to higher education and monetary success, a place that can better ourselves as intellectuals, or both? Each student will choose a different mindset, and if it doesn’t work for them, they will try another way to navigate the school’s often overwhelming options. Nevertheless, we do not always know what we want: we may know what our parents or peers want, but knowing what’s best for us is a slippery slope, especially in the rapidly maturing adolescence that Andover brings to many of us.
The competitive nature of our student body further muddles the line between our desires and others’ desires for us. Andover’s culture continuously seeks college, and as the availability of leadership positions and AP courses grow in number, the competition to seize them accelerates and intensifies. Already, as a Lower, I’ve been faced with decisions that put my desires at odds with the common beliefs having to do with “what colleges look for.” Personally, I rank my desires above those of colleges, but this is because I firmly believe that my path will lead me to the college and career right for me. Many others believe that the situation is reversed, and gear their course selections and extracurricular activities toward what is widely accepted to look impressive on an application.
For me personally, developing a conscious recognition of my desires, and differentiating them from the social expectations of Andover, has been a tumultuous and ongoing challenge. Junior year, I dealt with the multitude of choices by picking as many of them as possible, egregiously overestimating my time management skills. I maximized my course load, taking six classes my first four terms at Andover. Looking back, I know for a fact that at least one of the sixth courses I took was unnecessary, but back then, I was so focused on finishing my requirements that personal fulfillment didn’t matter much at all.
It was not until last winter, when I was still unsure of what role Andover filled in my life, that I began to approach school with a new tactic. I started weeding out activities that I blindly held onto with a shred of interest and replaced them with clubs and courses I knew would command my genuine attention and participation. I stopped ordering and reordering my activities based on their potential impact on my college application because right now, as an Andover student, I don’t know what lies beyond my four years here. I can, however, control the decisions I make at this school based on what I know I like and dislike, and what I know I want to pursue.
One of the most important things Andover has given me is the opportunity to take a step back from the chaos that embodies our everyday lives, and think about what I wanted to do, what I could do, what I was told to do, and what I was doing. I decided that some things were more important than others, not because they were widely considered so but because I considered them to be so.
Of course even after this seemingly revolutionary conclusion, the chaos and challenges did not disappear entirely: some of them simply took on a more coherent form. Nevertheless, I know I was right in sifting through the barrage of opportunities this school gives us. I feel that everything I do at this school has a purpose, one that I’m intent upon fulfilling. I have found clarity among the chaos, and I work incredibly hard to maintain it.
It took me a year and a half to decide what kind of experience I want to have at Andover, and I’m still not sure I’m doing what’s in my best interest as a high school student. I do know, however, that I’m doing whatever’s in my best interests as a person. I know that my choices will help me become the person I want to be in the future. Not everyone knows yet what they want out of Andover, college, and beyond. Nevertheless, everyone’s day will come. Our school gives us the opportunity to explore absolutely everything, and eventually, find our own, unique way through it all.
_Mihika Sridhar is a two-year Lower from Andover, Mass._