It seems like stress is an inevitable side effect of working hard, of setting goals and of succeeding and failing in our efforts to achieve them—a hallmark of being a student at Harvard-Westlake. At various points during the past four years, I have found myself lost in a dark hole of anxiety, desperately trying to “deeply breathe” my way back to temporary sanity. But, something else did more for me than my failed attempts at centering my chakra ever did: the kindness and empathy of various members of the community, particularly my teachers. This was the foundation for what I like to call The Werner Thesis.
History teacher Francine Werner, who I’ve had for three years now, inspired it, and we talk about it a lot in Prefect Council when discussing how we should, or can, deal with the stress problem at Harvard-Westlake. Basically, Mrs. Werner isn’t necessarily easier or more lenient than other teachers, but she acknowledges her students’ hardships and suffering—our stress and anxieties – which makes her one of my favorite teachers here. Whenever there’s a really tough testing week, like before winter break or when we’re getting into APs or finals, she may not be able to change our workload, she just tells us to “hang in there,” that it’ll be okay and that we’ll get through it. She makes you realize that at the end of the day, whether you get an A or an F, it doesn’t define who you are or the rest of your life. When you begin to realize that there’s more to life than your performance on a test, you begin to be free of the stresses and anxieties that may have previously suffocated you.
I think that’s what makes being a “second semester senior” so wonderful. I haven’t completely thrown away my coursework or blown off studying for tests, but I no longer find myself overanalyzing my future — the familiar reasoning of how I do on this test affects how I do in this class, which affects which college I get into, which affects which job I get, which dictates the success of my life is finally gone from my head.
You don’t necessarily need to be able to fix the cause of someone else’s problems or anxieties, but when you do show that you care, it somehow seems to help. It’s the little things, like saying ‘hang in there’ before everyone sits for four hours in a grueling AP exam that really get you through whatever you have to do. So, inspired by Mrs. Werner and a few other truly remarkable teachers that truly go beyond the line of duty (shout out to Jordan Church who has essentially been my therapist for the past three years,) this is my advice as I graduate Harvard-Westlake: you will get through it, as will everyone else. That being said, the best thing you can do for the people around you (and for you too – the mood of those around you affects you more than you will ever realize) is to help them. A simple “hang in there” goes a long way.