Make it better

by Cathi Choi



My junior year English classroom pulsated with energy, fueled by intellectual curiosity and heated discussions that cracked open my adolescent shell. There I explored and understood how words are nothing but thwarted vessels of communication. “Love,” says Addie in “As I Lay Dying” is “just a shape to fill a lack.”’


It turned the keys in an engine, and I was flying around, high off learning.


The course asked me, point blank, “How do I perceive the world and why.” I had heard hackneyed phrases about “formative learning” in anonymous and dry college sessions, but experiencing it first-hand felt like the culmination of my education.


I wanted more. It didn’t really matter what the topic was—who the writer was. I just wanted to dig elbow deep into passages of literature, shining a light on their every corner and turning over every phrase with the guidance of my teacher. I wanted to have discussions. I wanted to write papers. I wanted to analyze literature in the way I thought most engaging. I knew that just one English class in senior year wouldn’t satisfy me. I wanted an Independent Study.


There are many reasons why this Independent Study failed. I tried to propose a topic I had little exposure to. I hadn’t done enough research and the scope of it was not specific enough.


Those are issues I understand and accept.


What I refuse to accept and still am angry about is the committee’s decision to limit me on the number of classes I was allowed to take.


In my second semester of my senior year, I was not allowed to add on an eighth class. The committee said that I had to drop Cinema Studies second semester if I wanted to go forward with the Independent Study. I fully understand the “no eight classes” rule being applied to incoming sophomores who have their eyes wide, ambitions impossibly high, and three-year plans, heavy-laden with APs.


What I don’t understand is limiting seniors from completing a project they plan to create and work on independently in their final semester. I was frustrated with the committee and did not want to drop Cinema Studies, the class I had been waiting to take since freshman year, so I quit their game and left.


I thought I would be able to shrug it off and move on, but my momentum had suddenly been halted and the committee’s decision did and continues to frustrate me.


All my life I was inundated with mottos like “Ad Astra” meaning “To the stars” (the Mirman School’s motto) and “They can because they think they can.” I’m just as skeptical of these maxims as the next person, but beneath the words, there is an underlying agreement: challenge yourself academically; your educational institution will support you. They were worried about my course load? My stress level? In the second semester of senior year?


Yes, my course load would’ve been heavier. I would’ve been challenged, but I wanted that. That’s how I came into this school and Harvard-Westlake did nothing but nurture this desire, if not spur it on. My senior year would have been better with an independent study of literature. I know that. I regret that it didn’t happen.


There is simply no reason that we should not be allowed to fill our schedule to the absolute brim in our final year, let alone our final semester. We have gone through all the steps, some of us are even legal adults. We have learned how to manage our time, and they should trust us.


My failure in creating my own independent study has in no way tarnished my junior year experience. Junior year English, however, has not done away with my frustration. I’m still reading, and I’m still analyzing. Senior year English was a valuable experience.


The knowing, however, that I could have had more — that Harvard- Westlake still had more to give — that I had reached for it and failed — I regret that.


I hope that as we come away from senior year, trying to find some meaningful thesis for the past six years here, we realize that Harvard- Westlake has room to improve. The only way we can make sure of that is if we see through the sentimental haze to the question of “How could this experience have been better?” and do something about it.



I will forever be grateful for junior year English. My total experience, however, could have been better with an independent study. In all honesty, I’m writing for change, and I’m hoping for the best.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login