Words I never thought I’d say

Claire Goldsmith

In seventh grade, I hated it here. When I got home from school, I would research different boarding schools, searching for some perfect place where I would feel more comfortable or find a different version of myself.

As I climbed up through middle school and then high school, I changed. I become more extroverted and began to appreciate more aspects of Harvard-Westlake. My classmates and I matured and my interests expanded. I’ve pursued what interests me in the classroom and through extracurriculars, made friends that support and challenge me and have been inspired by supremely knowledgeable teachers. It’s been percolating throughout the year, and now I’ve come to a conclusion that, six years ago, could not have been further from my mind.

I’m profoundly grateful to Harvard-Westlake. During the past six years, and especially the three I’ve spent at the Upper School, I have had the chance to pursue interests both academic and extracurricular that have shaped me as a person. I wouldn’t have had the chance to do much of this at any other school.

Yes, I’ve worked hard. But I’ve worked hard because I chose those classes and those activities (and again, because I had the opportunity to choose them), because I care about succeeding, because I motivate myself in an environment of similarly motivated people.

That’s what it boils down to. The fundamental reason why I like this school, why I think I’m prepared to go to Yale next year, why I feel like I have turned out to be a fairly capable person. This school strives for excellence, and it succeeds.

I think what I’ll miss most about Harvard-Westlake is the general motivation that flows beneath the surface here. It’s something I usually take for granted, but, other than college and graduate school and maybe some jobs, there probably aren’t that many pockets like this, where the majority of people in the community are really trying.

The things I haven’t liked have been a function of high school rather than the institution of Harvard-Westlake. If I had attended a different school, I would have been subject to the same tribulations (after all, there’s a reason teenage angst is a universal trope), but without the intellectual challenge and opportunity I’ve found here.

I like the ways I’ve grown because of this school, and that’s why I don’t want Harvard-Westlake to change. This year’s idea of focusing on community and character is valid, but I think the roots of the school’s pursuit for excellence should remain the priority.

Sure, I’ve been stressed at times, but I anticipate a few rough patches after I leave high school as well.

And of course there are things I would change about the school (please refer to my litany of prior columns for ideas) — most important of which, I think, is instituting voluntary exit interviews for the senior class — but overall, when my family and friends ask me what I’ve thought about the school on the eve of my graduation, I can honestly say that, in my book, Harvard-Westlake is a remarkable place.

In my younger and more vulnerable years, I searched for some elusive, better alternative; now, I’ve realized this school has been the best thing for me. I wouldn’t want to repeat the past six years, but I also owe them, and this school, so much. Thank you.