★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars. It wasn’t perfect, but I had fun.

Michelle Lee


     Rude awakening: high school is not like the movies. Surprise. 

     I’m not sure what I was expecting when I was entering my freshman year, but it was something along the lines of pristine halls, tall lockers, a giant cafeteria, huge friend groups, and ten-minutes breaks between classes where you somehow have all the time in the world for a conversation. Think High School Musical without the music and Zac Efron. 

     Anyways, I was wrong. That’s fine. It’s all good. I’m here to learn, and I had already mapped out my ideal high school path. Picture a Monopoly© board–just one simple route. Start at Go, surpass freshman year, get through sophomore year, prep for and take the SAT in junior year, pass AP exams, maintain a 4.0 GPA, and have fun in senior year before graduating and attending a UC. Along the way, though, the board somehow turned into Snakes and Ladders.

     Start at Go

     Pass freshman year. Freshman year began with me hardly knowing anyone in my classes. Like, there are people I know, but I don’t know them, you know? I got to play fun little games like “How good is my memory” and “Do they enjoy talking to me or are they being polite?” I wasn’t the most social person in middle school, and that really backfired on me. I still wasn’t past that aspect of me in freshman year either, so I hesitated a lot when initiating conversations. I dreaded partner work because who was I supposed to pair up with?

     At some point, I managed to befriend some people, whether it happened through group projects, assigned seating, or sheer boredom. Perhaps a combination of all three? Whatever the case was, I don’t regret taking a step out of my comfort zone, and words can’t describe how much I adore my friends. It’s intimidating to be placed into an unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces, but there’s really no other way to meet new people. You have to be strangers before being friends. Overall lesson: Start the conversation–what’s the worst that can happen?

     Pass sophomore year. In my second year of high school, my motivation slowly started to decrease, especially in the subjects I had little interest in–math and science. I would procrastinate on work and stay up late. I would study for an hour or two and feel like I knew the material…until it’s the day of the test and my mind goes blank. Percentage by percentage, my grades for those two classes crept downward. They didn’t hit rock bottom–I can assure you of that–but they didn’t meet the standards that I held myself to. I was disappointed in myself, but I didn’t know how to fix my habits, so I guess I took the easy way out and didn’t bother to try.

     Looking back on my four years, that’s the year I regret the most. I can’t help but think, “Why didn’t I try harder? Why didn’t I do more?” I learned the hard way that the input determines your output. I can’t exactly go back in time (I’ve got high hopes for the year 2100 though), but I can apply this to my next four years of school. 

     Land on SAT and roll dice. Shoutout to the people who took the SAT twice. Four hours of your weekend in the early morning consecutively doing reading, writing, and math problems AND an essay? Yes please, sign me up! And don’t forget the SAT subject tests.

     The first test I took was actually the Korean subject test rather than the actual SAT. I’m a Korean-American, so I thought I would have an advantage, never mind the fact that I skimmed the prep book and had the speaking ability of a five-year-old. Fast-forward an hour later…

     Dad: How was it?

     Me: I need to cancel my score. 

     Long story short, I overestimated myself. Don’t do that. For the actual SAT, I did put in more effort–just not enough for the first time. It didn’t help that I was a bundle of nerves during the entire exam or that I misgendered the author of the article for the essay section. I felt that I could do better, and I was much more collected the second time because I had gone through the process before. I suppose the moral here is that if at first you don’t succeed, try again (but not more than three times because that doesn’t look good on college applications apparently).

     Land on AP exams–buy for $110? AP exams really have no business being that pricey, but hey, that’s capitalism for you. The first exam I ever took was AP English Language, and I was probably one of the few juniors who had to get walked through the process of filling out the scantron and placing the sticky labels; I was an oblivious sophomore, so I didn’t take AP Euro. The second one I took was AP Calculus AB. For those of you who remember those two exams, you’re probably thinking, “Wait a minute, Calculus exams were before APEng,” and you’re very right. Storytime: the universe was not in my favor and I was blessed with food poisoning on the day of my first exam. Not an ideal situation. I was stressing over taking the exam, stressing over not taking the exam, and then stressing over making up the exam. I was luckily able to confirm a make-up exam but was a little upset that I’d have to wait a week or two to take it. 

     This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just like with the SAT, I had already spent all of my stress the first time, and I had more time to review the material, so I got to the room feeling relatively calm. I took it, completed it, and later found out in July that I passed. 

     Pass junior year and obtain GPA card–roll dice for 4 or higher to get a 4.0. I rolled a 3. I’ll own up to the fact that it was all on me though (except for my sophomore math class). Also, they really weren’t kidding when they said that junior year would be the toughest year. There were AP classes, AP exams, SATs, and pre-senioritis symptoms. I managed to develop a terrible habit of staying up late. A proper sleep schedule? Not for me. My stress level was a rollercoaster that kept going up, and I had no idea when it was going to fall. 

     Nonetheless, I genuinely enjoyed that year. That was when I made a majority of my upperclassmen friends. That was when I had an AP Calculus teacher who actually made me look forward to a math class (shoutout to Ms. DSouza!) and a U.S. History teacher who never seemed to run out of interesting stories (shoutout to Mr. Zamora!). And that was when I joined Journalism for my first year and met the wonderful Mr. Savoie and the equally wonderful editors and staff writers. 

     Pass senior year and collect diploma. This was it. This was going to be our year. We were going to have an amazing spirit week, a hyped-up prom, and a moving graduation ceremony before going out with a bang. Er, so, not exactly what happened. But hey, one out of three is pretty good–two if you count ongoing graduation plans. I just hope I don’t wake up one day and find a USB in the mail with my downloadable diploma. 

     Regardless of the current situation, it’s safe to say that I’ve made some fantastic memories from this school year, like waking up exhaustingly early for senior sunrise, screaming on the water slides at senior picnic, and running across the school campus to get to a boba place before tables fill up. Now, what to do with my prom dress and graduation gown… 

     Land on College–pick a chance card. At a relatively competitive high school, there’s a lot of pressure to get good grades, attend a good college, and enter a good job field. Surrounded by classmates and friends who perform so well at school, my self-esteem went down and that was further reinforced when college admissions were announced in March. I loved seeing people post pictures of themselves wearing smiles and college merch, but they were simultaneously punches to the face reminding me of my inbox holding waitlist and rejection emails. For a majority of my time at high school, I held myself to some high expectations–and who doesn’t?–and I never stopped to consider the possibility of not reaching them. The colleges that I did get into were still pretty good schools, but they weren’t schools that made me excited for that new chapter of my life; I could imagine myself going, but I couldn’t imagine myself being happy. 

     It’s definitely easier said than done when told to stop comparing yourself to others. Not to get all philosophical or anything, but life is one big competition that can either push you forward or hold you back. And at that moment, I was being held back; I literally had nothing to gain from being stuck in my bubble of “you’re not good enough.” 

     Game Over. There’s a saying that I recently heard that says, “Sometimes the wrong train will take you to the right station” (from the movie The Lunchbox, referenced in the K-drama, Crash Landing on You). The plan that I had for myself at the beginning became something different over the last four years. There were detours, pit stops, and roadblocks along the way, but in the end, I’m where I want to be. So, full steam ahead.


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