Several weeks ago, I invited students interested in writing guest posts for this blog to contact me. Happily, one of them was Zane Anthony ’16.5, who writes today about his gap semester. —Shirley M. Collado
By 12th grade, I developed a senioritis so bleak and merciless that I felt like a crayon in a crayon box, trapped in darkness and ill fated to an existence of ambiguous pigeonholing and childhood neglect. Flustered and thundering inside, I felt exceedingly tired, wondering whether the few months of summer would be enough for me to recharge and “sort things out.” Too soon, I would find myself once again submersed in gray classroom grinds, committed to a near future in the progressive locale of Addison County, Vermont.
Last fall, I ultimately decided against signing myself off to another demanding, gazillionth-consecutive academic semester that would become roiled with work and worry. Instead, I kicked back for once, trading the immediacy of a hasty, blurry blastoff to an undergraduate career in exchange for a gap semester. And it was the best decision ever.
Today, the leap from high school to college is rumored to be so drastic, so inexorable, that we are losing sight of ourselves. Students consequently derail and belittle their high school endeavors; that is, building an arts center in Senegal becomes more important to their application to Stanford than to the Senegalese. Looking beyond “looking good” on an application and flashing showy undertakings, why not picture your post-secondary-school careers as the perfect opportunity to become the person you have always wanted to be—more active, more outgoing, or perhaps more generous? College is a breeding ground for out-of-comfort-zone experiences that lead you to new philosophies and understandings about yourself. But as I have come to discover, the time between high school and college is too.
Many young people think that life is encoded like alleles in DNA, or determined by set conditions like those of tall, bulky asymptotes. Attending a small, alternative school, I was lucky enough to be routinely discouraged from reverting to a life of normalcy and cookie-cutter approaches to solving problems, whether emotional, creative, or Socratic. I have finally realized that what has messed me up this whole time is that mental image I have of how things are supposed to be.
As leaves tumbled exhausted from branches last August, I fled from course work and towards my lifelong verve for environmentalism, following the winds to the familiar corridors of Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland. For four months, I taught Chesapeake Bay and swamp ecology classes, history lessons, and low- and high-ropes course initiatives with middle school and upper school students. Though busy, I had countless hours every day to be still and reflect.
Life moved slower. I synced with the natural rhythms of the Earth. I plunged into a world released from e-mails, voice mails, clocks, and schedules, nourishing that part of my being that is fed by swims in lakes, walks up mountains, and paddles through the water. Because of my experiences at Echo Hill, the things I want to do most, and the things that are most important to me, have slowly wedged away the rote, senile tasks I have been programmed to perform in secondary school. I can feel myself transitioning out of a dull, amorphous routine, growing blind to what was once familiar and youthful. But it’s funny because I do not feel as if I am running away or leaving something behind. Instead, I feel that I am stepping towards something else.
My Febmester taught me that I am my own advocate, motivation, and resolve to succeed—this is conceivably the most critical life lesson I have ever learned. The distinctive life is a triumph, not something that will come if I behave decently, or because my father ordered it from the country club caterer. Beyond latching to the highly coveted, recursive web of hard work, thoughtful leadership, and responsible citizenship, I know I need to work fervently towards my goals, and thereby define my odds for success. It means fundamentally questioning where I am going and making sure I am not following the rut left behind by somebody else.
While driving to Middlebury for my Class of 2016.5 February Orientation, I watched vistas and peaks roll past as if torn straight from summery, warm New England tourist journals. I revered the snow-capped mountains, and barns, and wind farms, scampering towards high ground with my confidence shots, hella warm layers, and every book I own on the environment in search of the rest of my life. “Onward to college,” I thought to myself. “And my timing is perfect.” Was your timing perfect? What could time off do for you?