Freshman year of high school did not seem that long ago, but at the time, I was just looking forward to getting through my first year. I felt that I was doing well, but I didn’t think I was living up to my fullest potential either. Little did I know that I would get the motivation I needed from one simple letter. It was a typical advisory block; full of laughter and relaxation with friends. Then placed in front of all of the timid freshmen were letters written by SENIORS. The OG class who already made us newbies feel intimidated. Did I expect an encouraging letter about how amazing the freshmen class is? Nope, what I expected was the typical senioritis bickering describing conceited reasons why they are the best class. Despite my skepticism, I began to read the letter. “Dear Freshman Person.” Here we go, I thought. I figured this introduction symbolized how this mystery senior planned to belittle and define me because I was a freshman. Nonetheless, I continued to read and dissect. “Enjoy your own company.” “Stop fearing judgement.” “Volunteer for stuff.” These are the take-aways that I took from the anonymous letter; inspirational thoughts that helped me grow in every possible way. I pinned this letter to my wall as a prized possession; a constant reminder to keep persevering and learning. Now that I have graduated high school, I feel that I have been reborn into a confidently, poised individual; and I believe that one letter guided me to success. I can’t even begin to contemplate the quintessential impact these types of letters would make on any aspiring student, all the way from kindergarten to graduate school. There is something uplifting about having “more experienced” classmates provide keen insight into the educational experience. A simple letter served as a word-formatted springboard in my high school journey and I believe it is a tradition that should be applied to every level of education in order to elevate the next generation of learners and leaders.
For whoever is reading this letter, you should know that I did not have the typical high school experience. I attended Ocean Lakes High School and the Governor’s School for the Arts, a performing arts school, where the life-long lessons I learned were realized in both atmospheres. While it was time-consuming to have two school commitments, I’m thankful that I had the time to grow in both settings; it made me a stronger individual. Here’s a few lessons for success:
Lesson 1: Give yourself grace. Before high school even started, I set high expectations for myself; getting involved, keeping a 3.5 GPA or above, etc. However, it was impossible for me to achieve everything at once with double the workload. So, I had to learn to give myself grace and learn to accept that I can’t do everything. It is a matter of prioritizing your needs at that particular time. Once I did that, my school schedule was a lot less hectic. I began to devote most of my time to activities that were most important to me, such as study time, practice time, and relaxation time. Life is too short to be obsessively anxious about everything you didn’t get to do. Instead, appreciate the big and little victories you can accomplish.
Lesson 2: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; they help you become a better student. I must admit, finding the right balance at first was a tumultuous task filled with lots of trial and error. I learned very quickly that when I had 2 or 3 hours of afterschool rehearsals, I wouldn’t have the luxury of sticking to my regularly scheduled program. When I had multiple shows on the weekends that lasted 2 hours each, excluding call time, I learned very quickly not to wait until Monday to do my homework in a sleep deprived state. No one has the luxury of having life go their way all the time. But I would advise being reflective of those bumps in the road that will ultimately help you to understand how to continue successfully learning. I may have lost much needed sleep, but I learned how to manage my time better than most of my peers. I may have had some close calls when it came to homework assignments, but I learned how to maintain the grade without piling on loads of work. In retrospect, the good takeaways outweighed the bad.
Lesson 3: JUST BE YOU! In the pursuit of learning from your mistakes and being gracious to yourself, remember that confidence is contagious. Easier said than done, right. Trust me, I know how unnerving it may be to show your true self in fear of being rejected. Throughout high school, I had a constant battle of finding my place within two different environments. I felt my interactions at Ocean Lakes and at Governor’s School had to be separate and not mixed together. For a while I thought I had to act a certain way when it came to my artsy friends and another way with my academic buddies. Then I realized the counter productiveness of living two separate lives when all I had to do was live my life the way only Gabrielle could. When I accepted being unapologetically me, the friend circle came naturally. Did I also turn people away? Yes, but nonetheless it didn’t bother me as much. Now I realize that most of the individuals that slowly drifted away from me actually alleviated some of the negative energy in my life. It is not their fault nor is it mine. Sometimes certain people don’t give you the fulfillment you need in friendships and you simply need to find that fulfillment elsewhere. It may not come immediately, but you will find a support group that provides equal benefits and happiness. And don’t feel guilty about having to let certain people go. What you’ll learn is that if a person is friend or foe, they will respect you for being who you are and having the confidence to stand by it. These are my three main takeaways, but the list of life lessons are endless. The whole beauty of learning is that you truly never stop. So in a sense, we are always students; born with an innate desire to acquire as much knowledge as we can. The educational journey does not stop at an institution, but it is infinite. So I implore you to keep learning, keep growing, keep evolving. But most importantly, enjoy every minute of it. Take joy in becoming fluent in a new language. Celebrate your triumph on a musical instrument. Treasure every connection you make and every new addition to your support circle. Step out and go all in; you’ll be glad that you did.