One of the sections included in the annual Senior Edition is a series of essays titled Seniors Speak. These works are written and submitted to The Acronym by members of the graduating class, allowing them to reflect on their experiences, share advice, and advocate for change. The writer of this piece is Radeesha Jayewickreme (Yale ’22), who spent her time at IMSA procrastinating work, doing Allies, working on mental health through StudCo, and befriending some of the best people she’ll ever meet.
“You can’t ignite creative, ethical, scientific minds that advance the human condition if you burn them out.” — Ms. Townsend, paraphrased.
I like fire metaphors, so let’s see what I can get out of this.
When I think about IMSA’s fire, I’m immediately drawn to the 8-to-13 year olds who come here to learn. Having been fortunate enough to participate in Allies at IMSA, I’ve seen curiosity at its peak. I will never be able to express the sheer joy that consumes me every time I see a child marvel at a cow retina or work tirelessly on creating the perfect balloon rocket. Their eyes widen at every new opportunity for discovery. My most memorable experience in Allies was when this one student just couldn’t get the hang of multiplication. She had never learned it before, and she got frustrated in my summer class. On the second day of the week, she asked me if I would teach her multiplication during recess. Just think about this for a second: A third grader giving up recess. Over the summer. To learn multiplication. She kept trying, kept working toward that goal.
I had never been more inspired.
That passion, her curiosity, her pure will to learn made me think more about what learning means. We call ourselves a “Learning Laboratory,” but, at times, it can feel like this is laboratory in the most mundane sense. Repetitions of the same experiments, expecting the same results every time. But why not change?
We, as an institution, a student body, a faculty, as IMSA, have lost the spark.
Where’d it go? Why do we no longer believe in the power of learning? On most tests here, students wait until the last minute to learn everything. We copy homework the mod before, bombard our teachers with questions the day before the test. I came to IMSA to escape the rote teaching methods at my old school, to learn beyond the test. I did, temporarily, but I lost it.
As some of you know and many of you will learn soon, first semester senior year kind of sucks. You’ve lost the upperclassmen who kept you sane, who cuddled with you and told you everything would be okay. You took great classes junior year and are stuck in a subject area that feeds your inferiority complex. The end seems so close but in the midst of what seems like hundreds of applications, it’s so far away. Slowly, the flame burns out, but it can’t go out. Not yet.
So what’s the point? Why’d we come here in the first place?
That’s when I think of the kids I teach in Allies. Their bright eyes, the way they crowd around a box of dirt trying to find bugs in it—that helps me remember. We all came to IMSA because a part of us, no matter how small, loved to learn. We got a jolt of energy every time something clicked. Others of us wanted to be challenged, we wanted to extend our thinking beyond what we thought possible. We had a strong spark, a flame bright and ready.
Ms. Townsend’s right. Slowly, the institution and our place within it blow that fire out.
It starts with some major systemic mental health issues. It isn’t fair that I know so much more about the resources available to students than my peers do, all just because of a position. It isn’t fair that I can’t feel comfortable going to a school counselor because I would feel like a burden on them. It isn’t fair that some teachers really do see mental health as a major issue on campus, and others don’t understand.
Beyond that, there are mental health concerns within the student body. When you say “kms” or “I’m gonna shoot myself,” do you really mean that? Do you know how much weight that carries with some people? The weight of our words transcends beyond the general death culture here. We pretend that sleeping less than 6 hours a night is an accomplishment, that it isn’t cutting years off of our lives. We pretend our unhealthy choices are a symbol of popularity, of being the “gods” people admire.
Whose fault is this? Slowly, the stress of IMSA—socially, academically, personally, etc—adds up, taking away the driving force for our internal flames.
There’s a major disconnect on campus and in light of it all, we’ve forgotten all the good. The opportunities we’ve had, the clubs we’ve enjoyed, the classes we’ve appreciated.
We’ve forgotten where the spark came from. We let the fire burn out slowly.
Maybe I don’t have a solution right now. No, I definitely don’t. All I know is that we have the capacity to take care of each other. We have the ability to lend a hand to those around us. Don’t forget that– being there. Slowly, we can build each other’s fires up.
Think about your first spark. The way the numbers in a math problem danced, the way a motor protein looked in the “Journey Through the Cell” YouTube video you watched– the way you stayed curious about the world around you.
And remember that that’s what you love. Learning. About yourself, about others, about the world around you. Learning how to improve it, change it, advance it. Never stop being curious, never extinguish the raging flames inside.
You can do it. I believe in you.