Keelyn O’Brien (‘16) submitted this article as part of our annual Seniors Speak series. This series is designed to give seniors who are leaving a final opportunity to share their voice and preserve the traditions and experience of IMSA’s seniors alive long after they’ve graduated. Keelyn lived in 1501 and dedicated her senior year to Organic Chemistry, an independent study with Dr. Crystal Randall, and pouring her soul into the yearbook.
My first experience with IMSA was at a summer camp the summer after eighth grade. I stayed in the residence halls for a week, getting to know some of my future classmates, although I didn’t know it at the time. One of the nights after check the student counselors for the program gave us their advice and honest opinions on what it was like to be an IMSA student. The piece of advice that resonated with me the most was “you come for the academics, but stay for the people.” At the time, it struck me as odd. How amazing could all the faculty and students be for them to be the reason students returned in the fall? I wasn’t exactly the most social person, and doubted that this piece of information would apply to me even if I attended IMSA.
Flash forward a year to sophomore orientation. I can barely remember anything about it, who I met, what we did, it’s all a blur. I can remember one thing that my orientation guide kept saying, however. She told us, a group of naïve and idealistic soon-to-be sophomores, that IMSA was difficult. That we were likely to want to give up. But the reason we would stay would be the people we had met. Again, I dismissed this thought, thinking it wouldn’t apply to me or I wouldn’t find classes that hard. I was wrong. Very wrong. But I came to learn that those three members of 2014 were correct. The best piece of advice I can give to any incoming sophomore is “you come for the academics, but stay for the people.” The longer I’m here and the more I reflect on my time here, the more true that statement becomes.
I am undeniably grateful for the chance to work alongside the faculty we have here. While there are some criticisms that abound – whether specific to a teacher or to a class – it is my belief that I was much better served by my teachers here than I would have been elsewhere. The relationships I have with all of my teachers here is more than I would have imagined possible, unless I was an undergraduate at a small liberal arts college. Sometimes, we as IMSA students, forget all the time, hard work, and effort that our faculty members put into our education. We gripe and moan about how they graded us too harshly, forgot to remind us to do a reading, assigned too much work, did not explain a concept, or were just generally incompetent. Are these complaints justified? Sometimes. However, we often exaggerate the depth of our problems, or forget that compared to where we came from, these complaints are meaningless.
I can easily say that I would not be talking to a history teacher about his daughter’s violin lessons had I stayed at my home school. I wouldn’t be able to ask my teachers about the pros and cons of graduate school from someone who pursued a graduate degree in the same field I am interested in. Learning from teachers who have attained the highest degree in their field was nearly impossible at my home school. The depth of understanding, compassion, and willingness to connect with students is nearly unparalleled. So this is my reminder to my fellow IMSA students to say thank you to the faculty for all the work they have done for us. This is also my way of saying thank you to every faculty member who has helped me on this journey, you have mentored me, fostered my intellectual curiosity, and inspired me to be the best student, and person, I could be. Thank You.
My fondest memories of IMSA involve my best friends here – my wing mates, my 01 family, and my classmates. The ability to learn from people with such diverse experiences, ideas, and backgrounds is one of the greatest assets IMSA has. Staying up late at night comparing religious backgrounds with quadmates, laughing about crazy sophomores with my 01 seniors, sleeping over in other halls, and walking to Orchard as a large group are each distinctly IMSA memories that rely on the friendships I’ve made. The people here are some of my best friends, my closest confidants, and a family that I chose. The most difficult part of going to college will be leaving my family – my IMSA family – knowing that we will be scattered across the country, once more growing without each other.
I am so grateful to have been able to grow into a new person alongside my classmates here. I am most certainly a better person thanks to their guidance, support, and loving mockery. Even during the hardest parts of junior year, I knew that my friends were there to support me, give me a shoulder to cry on, and lend an ear to my complaining. My wing is my community, my family, even though we were brought together by random chance. Every one of my lovely C-wingers is like another relative with unique quirks and interests. I can honestly say that I found a community that grew together, striving to make each one of its members better. As I prepare to leave this community behind, I’m forced to reflect on all the ways it has shaped me. I am astounded at the depth of character, the talent, and the curiosity of my classmates, and hope to find a community like this one in college.
As the end of the year rapidly approaches, I encourage all of my fellow IMSA students to reflect on this advice. Consider the people who have influenced your time here. How have you been shaped by your peers, your teachers, and the RCs? They may influence you more than you realize. When I asked my sister why she wanted to attend IMSA after hearing all of my complaints for the past three years, she told me she wanted the chance to meet new best friends, just like I had. So as you speak to future generations of IMSA students, choose your words wisely, since you never know which first piece of advice will stick in their minds.