As I write this article, I am on a train to Harvard University for a Model United Nations Conference. This is not my first conference; I have been to four in my first two years of high school. But for the first time I find myself dreading the long committee sessions, the late nights, and the perpetual cloud of boredom that will surely follow me around all weekend.
I originally joined the Model UN club because I was fascinated by geopolitics, loved debating policy, and enjoyed coming up with comprehensive solutions to real life problems while learning the important skill of diplomacy. I still love those things, but for a variety of reasons, I no longer love Model UN.
If I don’t enjoy the club anymore, why don’t I simply stop attending? It is not required; I choose to be a part of it. The truth is, I did think about dropping the club and I decided against it. Here is why: Having already dedicated hours of work as well as weekends over the first two years of high school, quitting now would feel like a waste. It feels as though the benefit of being in the club when college application time comes outweighs the burden of spending a few days a year less stimulated than I would like to be.
Too often we forget that the purpose of high school is not to get into college. Indeed, I am disappointed with myself for remaining in a club knowing that the main motivation is how it might look on my college application. It definitely isn’t the advice I would give to a friend. But, as an ambitious 16-year-old who wants to keep pace with my peers, I feel as though I almost don’t have a choice.
I was scrolling through Facebook today, and I was taken by a video in which one jellybean for each day of the average person’s life was piled up into a huge mound. A jellybean for each day a person spends sleeping over the course of their life was taken away, then one was taken away for each day an average human spends working, driving, eating, commuting, showering. And suddenly that incomprehensible mound of jellybeans transformed into just a handful. This video, especially when coupled with a long train ride where I can look out the window and pretend I am in a movie, as well as the conference I am about to reluctantly attend, have made me reflect on the last two years.
I realized that if I could go back and change one thing, it honestly wouldn’t have been to study more for that test I did badly on, or to spend a little more time writing that one essay. It would have been to live more in the moment, to not get caught up in the artificial and persistent grind of daily life. If I could impart one piece of advice on a rising ninth grader it would be just that.
This probably isn’t the advice a parent or college advisor would be giving, but from one high-school student to another, trust me. The reason we are so caught up in all of this schoolwork is because it is the only way to quantify the personal growth that we spend our lives seeking. But personal growth is about so much more than getting a 99 on a test, or getting into Stanford. It is about when you don’t get into Stanford and you have to make the best of plan B. Or plan C.
I am not saying that personal accolades aren’t important, because I believe that they are. All I am saying is sometimes it pays to to put down the textbook, accept a lower grade, and live your life.
Zeke Bronfman is a high school student in Manhattan.