Don’t miss out

I’ve been really busy these past couple of weeks. In the past week alone, every single one of my classes has either tested or assigned a project or essay.

Now, the logical thing to do would be to pack up all my stuff as soon as eighth period ends, send my sister a couple of nasty texts telling her to hurry up, hop in my car that’s long overdue for a wash (I’m telling you, I’ve been busy!) and book it over Coldwater Canyon, maybe grab a grande Starbucks coffee on the way and get to work.

So why have I found myself shivering as I walk to my car after dark almost every night in the past two weeks, just leaving school then? Sure, half of that was for this issue of the Chronicle you’re currently holding in your hands (or surfing through on hwchronicle.com), but the other was fulfilling a regret.

Two weeks ago, I attended a screening of a documentary following a photojournalist’s career in war zones that ultimately ended in his death in Libya (read more about here), followed by a Q&A with the photojournalist’s friend, Human Rights Watch Emergencies Director and performing arts teacher Ted Walch’s former student Peter Bouckaert. The documentary was one of the most amazing films I have ever seen in my life: it was inspiring, well-done and relevant, but it was also instructive. The Q&A further complemented everything that I learned in the documentary, teaching me more with every question. I will never forget what I learned that day, but I promise you I’ve already forgotten what the Middle East Studies reading that night was about (sorry, Mr. Yaron).

My parents, teachers and friends have often advised me to “live life without regrets,” and I told myself when I embarked on my Harvard-Westlake experience that I couldn’t let it come to an end with regrets. If I could, I would try to emerge with none at all. Well, I’ve stumbled upon a regret and have only less than eight months to remedy it.

This regret might not be earth-shattering — it’s not like I finally decided that science is my passion after immersing myself in four histories and no science, or that deep down I’ve always wanted to be the lead in the musical and missed my final shot. But it’s a regret nonetheless.

What’s unique about Harvard-Westlake is that we are part of a community full of incredible, interesting and selfless people. The teachers, students, parents and alums who make up this community have an impressive collective resume. The network of people they know beyond that only further expands the list of incredible people this community has access to.

In one case, this results in the amazing speakers we get every year to talk to the whole student body. Just last year, we had actor Samuel L. Jackson, one of the most recognized actors in the world. Then we had Olympian swimmer Dara Torres ’85, first openly gay former NBA athlete John Amaechi, and conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel – all in one year! We’re lucky that beyond these mandatory assemblies, teachers and former alums often bring in their former students who are doing great things to talk to us.

However, students aren’t required to attend these discussions and screenings. They usually occur late after school, when, as I mentioned, students are swamped with work. Because of this, sometimes students — myself included — who want to go to these presentations cannot do so due to their workload.

If you haven’t yet caught my drift, I regret choosing to do my schoolwork. Let me clarify. Homework is important and has a purpose, or else we wouldn’t be forced to do it (right?), but sometimes it’s okay to forgo one night of history reading or one night of problem sets to attend one of these events. We’re so lucky to have them, as many schools don’t have access to such people, and sometimes the value of learning is higher at these events than in that one night of history reading.

Too often, we students blame our immense workload for our absences from these events, and I regret not having taken advantage of these speakers in my time at the Upper School. I’m not denying that homework is important, but the things these speakers have to say, whether it’s Bouckaert, Jason Reitman ’95 or Benedict Cumberba—I mean, “Julian Assange”—, are the real learning experiences, the immediately applicable ones that complete what we learn in the classroom. It’s not just what’s in the textbooks but also about what the outside world is like now, and these are the ways we can learn about that.

So, yes, however trivial this may seem, my regret is having not taken complete advantage of the amazing opportunities our school provides. Upon speaking with some of my friends and classmates, they echo that same idea. We have to set our priorities and pick what is most important, and sometimes the big math test the next day might be that, but with a little time management and a little risk, there is a major reward.

Suffice it to say, I will be taking advantage of all the speakers this year. I have some catching up to do.

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