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A Reflection

Today I graduated high school. It was quite a journey and I feel some reflection is due.

Regrets

Randy Pausch said “It is not the things we do in life that we regret on our death bed. It is the things we do not.” I agree with this. Fortunately, I have few regrets about high school. I did not party, drink, or drug. I did not participate in many clubs. I did not make many friends. I did, however, study, almost constantly. Not for tests or anything academic, as my transcript shows and my classmates can affirm, but my interests. I have learned more about my passion, computers, than I ever thought existed when I first got started.

I have not been the most diligent student. Frequently I did not complete my work. This was probably a bad decision, but I justified it with the (dubiously attributed) Twain quote, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education,” although it was initially laziness combined with depression. As far back as 4th grade I’ve been struggling to keep up with various assignments (I recall being a few chapters behind in math homework. Mrs. Marrotte made me stay after school every day until it was finished.) Later on, especially 7th-11th grade, it was hard to rile up motivation to do homework when I could barely rile up motivation to continue being alive.

By the time I had gone through counseling and started an anti-depressant and could function like a healthy human, I found I didn’t have the skills to do what needed to be done. I had not had practice or experience doing non-trivial activities that I did not care about. I continue to struggle with this. It’s part procrastination too, which there’s no excuse for. Another Randy Pausch quote applies here: “I’ve always believed that if you took one tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things can work out.”

But I don’t regret not completing all of my work. Even if I did not finish and pass in the homework, I did learn the content rather well. I wasn’t content not understanding something (except transcendentalism, but that is its own story). I regret not making the most of my time in school. I could have been much more engaged with the community of my peers. I’m not sure that I actually desire that difference, though. Time spent with my peers was instead spent studying, programming, or playing video games. I graduate with 2 of my close friends and a handful of good acquaintances (I use “friend” very reservedly).

I definitely regret not being more involved and dedicated to Destination Imagination. It’s a great program and I feel like I let down my teammates (and probably frustrated the advisor). This also applies to science club and mock trial, though to a lesser extent.

I really wish depression hadn’t hit me like a train. It was manageable until 9th grade. From there it was a downward spiral of self-hatred, cutting, and suicidal thoughts (and one attempt sophomore year). I know we are the sum of our experience, and mine have made me stronger, but I would trade it in in a heartbeat.

Thanks

Beyond teaching the standard curricula, I owe some teachers huge amounts of thanks (roughly in chronological order):

  • Mrs. Cook for encouraging me to be, as she phrased it, “an odd duck.” I was very sad to see her leave after a single year at the school, she was a good teacher.
  • Julia Zimmerman and Paul Kreiner (during Junction 2011 at MIT) for so many reasons. They were constantly encouraging, even when my writing was terrible. They taught me how appreciate science fiction and all forms of writing, showing the science behind writing through linguistics.
  • Mrs. Stroshine for really teaching how to analyze and appreciate usage of the English language, and also for putting up with me as I finished Junior English my Senior Year. I procrastinated so much and was actually afraid of you (although that construction was entirely in my head, you are a very nice person). You are a fantastic teacher and I hope you enjoy your retirement.
  • Mr. Smith for his passion for history. It has definitely rubbed off on me, especially your message that history isn’t static, it is constantly open to reinterpretation as more evidence is presented.
  • Mr. Fazio for his gentle encouragement and toleration of my (usually advanced, sometimes off-topic) questions in the middle of his lessons, as well as not giving up near the end of the year in Senior Math Topics. I did actually learn in that class.
  • Dr. Kaplan for fostering a healthy skepticism in me. Your occasional off-track discussions that you allowed (although never skipping a beat with the curriculum) throughout our two years were always informative. These will stick with me longer than how to balance redox reactions.
  • Ms. Gigliello for understanding me almost uncannily (supposedly her daughter is just like me. Which is, of course, a good thing). The discussions you (lightly moderated) during class never failed to engage me. Circle time is a wonderful invention.
  • Mr. Dunn for letting me work in his room all the time and for his farewell address. You are a great asset to the school, and your retirement has definitely been earned.

And finally

  • Mr. Kuhn. You are possibly the best teacher I ever had, especially considering some of the most important lessons you taught me were outside of any class I was in. You always challenged me to think creatively and to stretch beyond myself, but within my means. My biggest regret is not spending more time with you this year (I felt awful for the DI fiasco, I was embarrassed to even see you in the hall: an unfounded feeling I know).

Not only have you taught me your respective curricula, you have changed the way I think. Your influence, and my appreciation, can not be overstated. You do not get paid nearly enough for what you do.

There are some non-teachers that get some love too:

  • Joanne Walsh, who always gave me crap for being late to school. You are an amazing, patient, kind person. It meant a lot to me to see you at graduation. Thank you.
  • Roni Hoffmanm. You were my mom away from home and always made sure I was behaving as a decent human should. During conversation you called yourself a “peon” and a “little person.” Nothing could be further than the truth. You are incredibly important and a great role model.

I will not miss Monadnock, but I will miss the faculty. The quality of the teachers is very high. The political changes happening around them are unfortunate.

The future

I will be studying Computer Science at Clarkson University in the fall. I will not squander my time there like I did my time in high school.