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 Catherine Luo (Stanford ’23), who lived in 1502D senior year. Catherine practiced Wushu Kung Fu outside of IMSA and was the ASIA president during her senior year.
Autonomous and ambitious, we all began as seeds of wonder and potential attracted to the fresh greenhouse of a learning laboratory. While settling into the new patch of soil that we will call home for the next few years, our roots are tested by the weather. The howling storms break us down into our basic elements through repeated cycles of stress and survival. Yet, we persist, believing that no flowers can bloom without rain and that harsher thunderstorms bring brighter rainbows. In our elementary school’s science fair projects, we are taught that plants need air, water, nutrients, and sunlight. In middle school, we learn that CO2 reacts with H2O to form Glucose and Oxygen. At IMSA, we can now describe detailed procedures, cite JSTOR articles, and conduct slightly-better-than-elementary-school MSI projects.
However, left out of science textbooks is the most crucial necessity of all—nurture. Though we can name all the steps in a cell cycle, can we even keep a plant alive? How can we grow intellectually when our student body reflects an ignorance for taking care of our physical and mental health? How will we advance the human condition if we continue degrading ourselves with self-deprecation and malnourishment?
We are all individual plants growing at different rates, but everyone needs water, light, and most importantly, love.
Water. The element of life, frozen or flowing freely. IMSA was an endless ebb and flow of tides.
Weeks felt like tsunamis of work and emotional rollercoasters when I could only hold my breath, struggle to stay afloat, and just keep swimming. Junior year was especially rocky, but it didn’t have to unfold the way it did. By the time the tides turned and senior year rolled around, I formed a clearer mindset of tackling mental whirlpools. Being hard-faced, emotionless, and narrow-minded like ice will make everything all the more difficult. I’ve realized the need to be in control of my mentality and mimic the characteristics of water by loosening up. The extra pressure we place on ourselves drowns us more. Adapt to any shape. Be reflective. Stay open to others’ opinions and advice. Maintain a balanced mindset of self-criticism and self-acceptance. Believe your efforts will ultimately be fruitful. Accept mistakes but ferociously strive for improvement. Also, stay hydrated!
Light. It’s the drive that wakes us up in the morning, peeking through the half-closed blinds and beckoning us to try again; it’s in the fluorescent bulbs of our half-burnt lamps that keep us awake late into the night while tackling mind-boggling problems. The lack of windows at IMSA does not keep out the passion within the students, burning like the balls of fire millions of light years away. Focusing on the dark is easy because everyone else does, but remember those sparks of epiphany when you finally figured out a concept, when you fell into rabbit holes of exploration for the sake of learning. Don’t get sucked into the black hole of IMSA’s death culture and pulling endless all-nighters, because there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Fight to find what you truly love to do, ignite that fire, and keep IMSA lit.
Lastly, do not forget love. It’s not science; it’s simply nature. While seeking independence, we are determined to not wait for anyone to give us flowers and instead eagerly grow our own gardens. As much as we try to bear the weight of the world on our own shoulders, we forget that working together helps everyone grow. IMSA is an ecosystem—everyone has a role in the tight-knit community. We should share the resources and not compete to compare ourselves. It’s easy to fall into the trap of losing faith in our own abilities and begrudge the success of others, but love is what bonds everyone. Look in the mirror on your worst days and be proud of how far you’ve come. Look to your friends and cheer them on when they are about to give up. Look at grades as benchmarks and not assessments of your worth. Becoming happy with yourself is a journey, and IMSA is definitely a test of your strength. Sometimes, you just need to step back, appreciate the people you’ve met along the way, respect your own flaws, and do something you love.
Contrived metaphors and flowery imagery aside, remember these last words: IMSA is hard for everyone. As much as we believe we can face it alone, we need a little love to make it through. Build a strong support system, take care of your mental health, and aim for growth, not perfection. Now, it’s your turn to bloom.