Our journey is almost over. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the writers who contributed and all of you readers for your amazing support of Seniors Speak. But before we end this series, we have one more entry: mine. I hope you enjoy my own IMSA story!
By Agnel Philip, Arizona State University-Downtown Phoenix, Class of 2017
Failure. My entire life has been defined by it. Most of our lives are. It sounds depressing but it’s true. Failure to do this. Failure to become good enough at that. Failure to live up to the expectations that came with having above average intelligence and a privileged upbringing. Therefore, if I were to give you the story of Agnel Philip’s life, it would be one of unfulfilled potential. From the time I could form sentences, I was anointed as some sort of intellectual prodigy. I was constantly told that I could do everything and the failure to do so labelled me as another waste of talent.
Remember these points about my past when going through this article because they give context to both my actions and the lessons I take away from my experiences. With that, allow me to take you along a journey filled with more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Six Flags.
A Look Back
My IMSA journey started fairly stereotypically. My parents, of course, were the initial proponents of the institution. I was hesitant at first but after a few summer camps, I grew to like the school. So I applied in 8th grade. After getting rejected (one of the aforementioned failures), I decided to reapply in 9th grade. This time, obviously, I was successful.
From this point onwards, my life shared an unlikely parallel: that of Jesus. Before any of you hardcore Christians or Atheists get excited, let me make clear that I am not saying that I am in any way like Jesus. According to Christian tradition, Jesus never sinned. You would only have to observe me for about 5 minutes to see that I do not resemble Jesus the man.
Back to the story. The importance of the moment when the decision letter arrived in May of 2010 cannot be understated. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had legitimized my intelligence. I was considered one of the top students in Illinois and would be attending a school filled with people of a similar caliber. For me, the moment I received my acceptance to IMSA was like the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Like Jesus, I was publicly told that I had gifts and that I now had the obligation to share them with the world. It was my turn to “advance the human condition”.
Wandering the Desert
As a sophomore, I had no idea where my life was headed. I attempted to excel academically not out of desire but out of duty. I couldn’t help but feel like I was still wasting my talents even though this school provided some phenomenal opportunities. Thus, I stumbled through days with a fake purpose and fake goals.
That being said, this year was useful. Because I had no connection to IMSA students before attending the school, I had a clean slate with which I could go out and build relationships. My parents did a thorough job of instilling in me the importance of personal relationships so my only legitimate goal during this time was to build as many of them as I could, as well as I could. While only a few of these relationships ended up being exceptionally strong, I had unknowingly built a safety net for later on.
I wandered the desert for about three semesters and by about midway through the first semester of junior year, I became extremely fed up with my lack of direction. College loomed in the distance and I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Then in November of 2011, my life changed.
Responsible for this dramatic course correction were a couple of remarkable events that happened simultaneously in my life. From these events, I drew my inspiration.
For some people, inspiration comes from the events themselves. For others, it comes from a closely held belief. For the rest, including me, inspiration comes from individuals. During the month of November, I began to get close to people whose passion and drive inspired me to do more.
Also, during the Thanksgiving break, I had a rather unremarkable but immensely important conversation with my father. We were talking about careers with my cousins and he said that if he had grown up in this country (his childhood had been spent in India), he would have probably become a journalist. Suddenly, something in my mind clicked. That is what I wanted to do. That was how I was going to fulfill my potential.
That’s not to say that my life suddenly became a cake walk, but, eventually, my life started to gain momentum and began to move at an impressive clip.
By the end of junior year, I applied to become a LEAD facilitator and a SCIA student representative and had my eye towards joining the Acronym in the next year. IMSA is an amazing place for that reason. Once you find your passion, there is no shortage of opportunities or resources through which you can make an impact.
For the first time in my life, I felt like the sky was truly the limit. Instead of a series of failures, I was beginning to string together a series of successes.
Many people view the Passion of Jesus (the days leading up to his death) purely from the tragic point of view. However, those people overlook the jubilant beginning of the week. His entry into Jerusalem was nothing short of triumphant. Crowds greeted him with more excitement and reverence than they greeted royalty. If he could have frozen his life at one particular moment, that’s the moment I believe he would have chosen.
Such was the beginning of the period in my life that contained both the happiest and most painful memories: senior year.
The year started off incredibly well. I had become comfortable with the person I was and began to dream bigger than I ever had. My fear of failure, although still present, was not nearly as much of a burden. But, most importantly to my relationship-conscious self, my inner circle grew even stronger.
I wish I could capture the months between August and December in a bottle and loop them back because soon my life took a turn for the worst.
It all started on November 30, 2012. On this day, that inner circle I spoke of suddenly fell apart.
Before you judge me as being too attached to people, remember that a fundamental principle of mine is the value of relationships. And these relationships were not just any relationships; these were the relationships that I valued most.
The people I trusted most turned on me. For Christians, this should sound familiar. The same thing happened to Jesus. The same crowd that welcomed him enthusiastically a short while before was calling for his death mere days later.
I was at partially at fault for this but, nevertheless, for the first time in nearly a year, failure became real again. My initial and strongest safety net was gone. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on. It was like a social and emotional crucifixion… or so I thought.
Remember those days wandering in the desert from sophomore and junior year and the bridges I was able to build? They bailed me out when I needed them most. They were, as cliché as it sounds, bridges over troubled waters.
So, slowly but surely, I began to pick up the pieces of my life. It’s amazing the things you discover about yourself when your entire world turns upside down and the only person you can count on is yourself. It brings about a new level of intellectual confidence and mental toughness.
Suddenly, I had this weird swagger that I carried throughout the entire semester. I knew what I was capable of and what I was passionate about. Thus, I applied myself wholeheartedly to writing articles about the NFL during the playoffs and later about my interest in NASCAR. The latter was especially important to me because it represented not only the fulfillment of my potential but also the first time I felt truly proud in a piece of work I had created.
I tried new things that the old me would not be willing to try such as IMSA radio and drill team. Furthermore, I became a much better tennis player because I had a greater understanding of how the sport fit within my life.
Strangely enough, out of those dark moments was born the version of myself best prepared to excel in the world.
I have had a lot of time to reflect this semester over what my time at IMSA has really meant to me and have come up with some lessons that I would like to pass on to future generations of IMSA students. Take them to heart because I came up with them while I supposed to be doing homework.
The first lesson is to not be afraid to care about people. Nine times out of ten, they will disappoint you but in the end you will enjoy the moments you share with them infinitely more than any pain they cause you down the road.
Also, if you are lucky enough to discover that you have a friend or other special person in your life who is willing to stick by you through thick and thin, do not push them away. The bottom line is that finding someone who genuinely cares about you is hard enough. Finding someone who is willing to sacrifice for you is rare. Don’t let those types of people go without a fight.
Finally, if you find yourself in rut or feel like you have lost your motivation, do not, under any circumstances, give up. Figure out your passion and delve into it. Smile even when you don’t think you can. As I said earlier, when you find yourself on the brink you learn more about yourself than at any other time in your life.
Before I get to my actual future predictions, there is a little more history to cover. When I last left off, I was beginning to put my life back together again. However, it wasn’t like I had escaped my metaphorical prison. Instead, I was pacing behind the bars.
Then, another series of fortunate events happened. First, I reconciled with some of the people who had been responsible for putting me in that prison. Repairing bridges, I’ve found, is one of the most worthwhile and satisfying things any person can do.
But what really allowed me to return to some sense of normalcy was Clash of the Halls. It was like an epiphany. In the camaraderie of our hall during that incredible week, I was finally satisfied with where my life was. Underclassmen, cherish CoTH because you will experience few other things like it in your life.
Through all of the struggles and personal battles, I emerged with a ferocious drive. I was hurt but it made me stronger. The people from my past whose memory I used to fear became fuel. In a way they do more now than they did while they were still around. Inspiration is one thing but motivation is what actually drives progress.
My motivation comes from the realization of a couple more lessons.
Number one, following your passion is both the most selfish and selfless thing you can do. Selfish in that it represents your ultimate fulfillment. Even if your passion is helping others, you are still doing what fulfills you. Yet it is also selfless in that in the process of following your passion, you are delivering the version of yourself that the world deserves. The world deserves you at your best, and that only happens when you follow your passion.
Take, for example, my time on Acronym. I did not write articles for the benefit of the people of this campus. After all, how many of you actually care about the NFL or sports in general? I wrote simply for my own fulfillment. But, in the process of writing these articles, I was able to display my passion for both writing and sports to all of you. The result was that by the end of the year, I had written far more than any other writer on staff. That was what the world deserved of me, and by following my passion, I was able to deliver it.
Second lesson: don’t worry about people that you have lost either because of mistakes or circumstances. Life has a way of bringing them back if you truly care about them and put in effort to show them this. Even if they don’t, assuming they are truly significant to you, they never leave. They live on in your subconscious, driving you to chase your dreams and providing you comfort. The best you can do is to make sure that they know how much you care about them at every possible moment.
The lesson I am about to share with you is the most important one: stand up for your principles. This may sound cliché but there is more to it. Yes, stand up for what you believe in but also stand up for the principle that you may be wrong. Be open to critique and rigorously self-reflect. Just because you believe something is right does not make it so. But if you do some honest self-reflection and find that something is worth fighting for, do not give in. Regardless of the circumstances, regardless of what other people say, when you make a stand, make a stand.
Finally, I will leave you with the last lesson in lyrical form. The song is “Red Ragtop”, an older Tim McGraw song that I rediscovered recently. One particular stanza sums up the way that I view my life now:
Well you do what you do
And you pay for your sins
And there’s no such thing as
What might have been
That’s a waste of time
Drive you outta your mind
Let go of the past, but never stop fighting for the future. Forgive, but never forget. Say what you mean and do what you say. Compromise, but never give in. Above all, love as much as you can to as many people as you can.
As for the future, I can’t say that I know how it will unfold. If I have learned anything from my life, it’s that planning out the future is a fruitless exercise. However, I do know one thing: I will make an impact. This is not the last time you will see Agnel Philip’s name.
Finally, I feel like I am mobilizing that unfulfilled potential. Finally, I am truly free of the fear of failure.
It’s like every day is the third day and that’s just the way it should be:
[Photo/Graphic Credit: Joe Reda]