One a.m.: wraps from Mr. Takeout. 3 a.m.: crying on the rooftop of Johnson Hall. 4 a.m.: studying for a math test in the common room. 5 a.m.: finishing a philosophy paper at Starbucks. The most garish snapshots Andover imprinted in my mind all happened between midnight and sunrise.
My most vivid memories of Andover are not the happy ones. They are the hardest and most painful ones, the hours of crying, the tears and the never-ending feeling of inadequacy.
Like so many kids, I never did find that balance between classes, extracurriculars, sports and sleep. I admire those who have made it through Andover without pulling a single all-nighter. It’s no surprise that I am not one of them.
I’ve realized that it’s okay to feel disgruntled. That a $47,000 sticker price doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games; or that it’s okay to come back to one of the most prestigious secondary schools 10 years from now and say, “I hated it.” There are many things I hate about Andover. I have never romanticized the lack of sleep or the tears that Andover can cause. I have never felt powerful when making a board decision. And there’s no reason I should have.
Even now, part of me still feels like I do not belong. They say third-culture kids (TCKs) have the ability to adapt to a new place more quickly than most. Concurrently, it’s harder for us to establish deep connections with others.
As a new Lower I was miserable. My mother would tell me that I didn’t have to be here, that I didn’t have to put myself through hell just for my education. I would cry myself to sleep, knowing in my heart that despite her best intentions, my mother’s words were false. She’d sacrificed so much for me. She’d given up her own education and career, left behind family and friends, and even moved so we could afford to send me here. There was no path for me to return.
I would long for breaks and would dread returning to the 01810’s conformist routine of homework, clubs and sleep-deprivation. I was tired of being isolated and alone, so I threw myself into extracurriculars, not for the sense of accomplishment, but to drown out the loneliness. If I constantly surrounded myself with people, I thought, maybe I would forget that I was alone in a foreign country.
Eventually, I found the intensity I was looking for — a way to absolve myself of the boredom posed by the quotidian. I was drawn to the most accomplished upperclassmen. I coveted the perfection and the elitism Andover stood for. I longed for validation, not from the adults, but from those who had no reason to care about me — the kids that everyone talked about.
It was those Seniors who epitomized perfection. The ones everyone referred to by first and last name, because they were too special for just first names — it was all about perception. They were the celebrities of Andover. They were who I wanted to become.
By Upper year, I desperately sought to hide my vulnerabilities. I adopted a disillusioned attitude towards my place at Andover. No one would know my grades, but everyone would know that I was on the boards of X clubs. Asking teachers for extensions was okay, but asking the heads of Philo or International Club for extra time on assignments felt like a stab in the gut.
I became addicted to relentless intensity. I would work on meeting schedules, applications, Abbot Grants for hours and rarely start my homework before final sign-in. This intensity, my solace from solitude, an addiction to an image of perfection, became my greatest vice.
The Niswarth trip to India the summer before Senior year was my turning point. In as typical TCK fashion as possible, it took being away from Andover for me to understand who I wanted to be at Andover. I realized that intensityitself is not a vice — rather, misplaced intensity is. I was an intensity-junkie on detox, finally realizing that I had neglected my health for the rush.
Senior Winter, I rid myself of the pressure and embraced learning for itself. I took six classes. I stopped caring about the grades and started enjoying the moment. It was still a time filled with intensity, but for the first time, this intensity transformed into joy and fulfillment, not pressure.
I found my second home in the CAMD office. I found comfort in Ms. Lewis’ warm hugs and Ms. Torabi’s open office door. I found solace in hot chocolate, graham crackers and mini marshmallows. I learned not to desensitize myself to the pain, but to talk about it openly, transforming it into something positive instead.
Despite finding fulfillment, I have never been quite able to ridmyself of insecurities. I don’t think I am alone in my fear of losing touch with the friends I’ve made at Andover. When we are all scattered around the world, it will get harder to stay #connectedAndover. No hash tag in the world can replace living with 35 other girls in a red brick building, with all its nooks and crannies, and useless fireplaces, or frequenting our dining hall with the five-star review on Yelp.
Most kids at Andover have a place they can call home; they have a place to return to with a childhood room, where they have all of their belongings, a place of permanence. But attending Andover has made us outsiders to a certainextent.
It’s like being a TCK, where you almost fit in everywhere you go, but are caught in the awkward cultural limbo of your surroundings. For Seniors it will be Andover, home, college. If the TCK comparison holds true, chances are the people we will foster the most significant connections with will be the ones who are outsiders like us.
My relationship with Andover is the most complex oneI have formedin my 18 years. It is epitomized by a deep-rooted, unbreakable connection that runs thicker than blood. It is characterized by resentment for causing me to grow up before my time, but also undying gratitude for giving a lost 15-year-old a safety net where she could find herself.
Whether or not I like the person I have become is a question I am still trying to figure out, but one thing is certain: I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for my time at Andover.
It’s okay for us to stay up until 3 a.m. making memories and reflecting on the people we would have become if we hadn’t chosen a world of manicured lawns, phallic statues, chandelier-lit libraries and buildings named after presidents or famous inventors.
Senior Spring is a break from the daily Andover grind, and a chance to reflect, an opportunity for Praxis, a pocket of peace before college, a break from trying to figure our world out and a chance to let it go, because it is too easy to forget that we are still only teenagers.
I think Tony Kushner said it best in his epilogue to “Angels in America”: “[W]e organize the world for ourselves, or at least we organize our understanding of it; we reflect it, refract it, criticize it, grieve over its savagery and help each other discern, amidst the gathering dark, paths of resistance, pockets of peace and places from whence hope may be plausibly expected.” The same holds true for Andover.
_DJ Bierwirth is a three-year Senior from Dortmund, Germany._