I remember sitting in a science classroom, air conditioning blasting, at orientation just a few days before the start of my sophomore year.
My dean group and I shyly gripped our new schedules as juniors and seniors gave us advice for our upcoming years at the Upper School. I will never forget the petrified feeling that overcame the room after an upperclassman sarcastically chuckled and said in a warning tone, “good luck!” I met my friend’s eyes, and we gave each other a knowing look of absolute trepidation as if we had seen a monster. But this monster was not the type seen on Halloween. It was a much scarier creature: the ominous and legendary Upper School.
Flash forward to the first semester of my senior year, and I cannot say this warning was entirely fear-mongering. Test after test and reading quiz after reading quiz, Harvard-Westlake has proven to be worthy of its title as one of the hardest and best high schools, not just in California, but nationwide.
This impressive reputation informs the general public’s opinions about us as students. I am sure most of the student body can relate to hearing the presumptive tones in people’s voices when they hear where we go to school, as they assume we must be future Rhodes Scholars or multi-billionaires.
But fancy titles, reputations and reactions aside, the lofty gates of the Coldwater campus hold a different meaning for each and every student. For the field hockey player, Harvard-Westlake means sweaty practices and turf-filled cleats. For the physics whiz, it means metal balls rolling down ramps and flying through classrooms, and for every student in between, it means something different and unique.
The truth is, Harvard-Westlake is not just about hard classes and a heavy course load. It is about community, personal growth and self-discovery — as cliché as it sounds.
It means panting students trekking from the quad all the way up to their history classes, Jackson’s repeated reminders to stay in the “cone-zone” on walks to Starbucks and crowds of panicked students standing around printers waiting for their essays as the menacing WolverScreens count down to the end of passing period. It means all the buzzwords that go in one ear and out the other as we sit in the sweltering sun, listening to speeches at convocation each year.
And, as hard as it is to take the time to step back from what seems like a never-ending cycle of scantrons and red pen marks, it is important to pause and appreciate our fleeting time here.
High school should not be seen as a means to an end, whether that end is college or even a future career. It is a site for development and a place where I believe we start to grow and flourish as individuals.
It is a time to take risks and explore interests by joining new clubs and taking stimulating electives. In my mind, there is no better place for this than our school. This column is more than an appreciative ode to our school. It is a call for us all to take a moment to be thankful we are here, which admittedly can be difficult in the midst of labs and papers. Take advantage of the seemingly endless opportunities on campus and stop to smell the roses (or in our case, the pervasive cafeteria dumplings).
The monster that terrified me and my sophomore friends as we awaited our first day at the Upper School has shown to have a friendly side: a side that instills a sense of community and fosters a love of self-discovery and tostadas.