They taught us well

By Alice Phillips

Nine years ago, I sat on the field as my oldest sister graduated from Harvard-Westlake. I was a second grader at the time, and I was intimidated.

I was intimidated by how tall her friends were, how old her friends looked and how confidently they walked in high heels. I was intimidated by their ability to understand “math-speak,” write multi-page essays and take multi-hour tests.

But now it’s my turn. On June 10, I won’t be waking up early to save seats on the aisle, I’ll be walking down it.

In the last nine years I grew taller, got older, learned Calculus, wrote essays and took tests. Yes, I’ve worked hard. We’ve all worked hard, a lot. But despite the stress, despite the 4 a.m. post-Chronicle “Mrs. Dalloway” essay, the 11th-hour history paper topic change and the fact that I will probably never own a pair of high heels, my deep, dark fears never came to pass.

Why not?

There are several answers to that question. My parents would be one obvious answer, but I’ve been told that teenagers wait until their mid-20s to get around to thanking their parents so that can keep. Harvard-Westlake is the other, and a much more timely one at that.

Harvard-Westlake deserves credit for teaching me how to write so I could criticize you bi-monthly in this very publication. And, more importantly, you deserve credit for taking the fear out of aging into adulthood. It wasn’t handholding, and I’m glad about that, but what I’ve always told prospective families at visiting days is true: Harvard-Westlake dishes out quite a lot by way of stress, but the school gives you the tools requisite to handle it.

As a sixth grader, I didn’t appreciate the importance of a decision to come to Harvard-Westlake. I was excited about a change of scenery and a change of pace, but I had no clue how much the educational pedagogy of this place would change my life.

When acquaintances find out where I go to high school, they always say something to the effect of: “You guys work so hard” or “Aren’t Harvard-Westlake kids always so stressed out?”

When I respond, I answer yes. Because it’s true. Whether or not I’ve enjoyed every second of my six years here, I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be the graduating senior I am today without the work and the stress. This place pushes us, but it clearly pays off. I’ve never heard a Harvard-Westlake student walk out of an AP test complaining that it was harder than any test they’d taken in class. We walk out saying the tests were easier. We walk out relieved that we were so prepared.

So thanks, Harvard-Westlake, not for making my life easier but for making it harder. Thanks for making term papers surmountable and standardized tests doable. In light of the previous 480 words, I should say that Harvard-Westlake has prepared me for things to come.

But you know that sister who graduated from Harvard-Westlake nine years ago? She finished graduate school last week… and I’m terrified all over again.