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 Charlotte Giff (SLU ’23), who lived in 1502A wing during her senior year. She was actively involved in Cross Country and Track, and was a co-president of ISP.
When I tell people about my IMSA experience, I often get asked, “If you could go back, would you do it again?”
I’ve thought a lot about that question. Perhaps I could’ve gone to a public high school in Chicago, received a completely different education, made different friends, and participated in different extracurriculars. Maybe I never would’ve participated in the activities I feel define my IMSA career: running and photography. The idea of living a completely different life has intrigued me at times, but as a senior with two months left, the notion of not attending IMSA terrifies me. It would mean leaving behind the closest friendships I’ve ever made, leaving the dorm room where I spent hours working on homework and clash movies, talking and laughing with friends, crying, and everything in between. It means leaving my cross country team and leaving the studio where I discovered my passion for photography. It means leaving the community of people I’ve found solace in.
So I always respond “Yes. I would absolutely do it again.”
And yet, I can’t help but feel that, if I had the power to go back, I’d change some things. I’d give my past self advice and learn how to maneuver situations I could’ve never envisioned as a naive sophomore who barely understood herself, much less those around her. I realize now, that this advice is not simply applicable to my IMSA experience, but in many ways, to all IMSA students that want to understand what IMSA is really like. So, here are my top five bits of advice.
1.) Take time to get to know the people around you.
Sophomore year, I remember how dramatic every friend group seemed. People gossiped about who broke up with who, when, why and how. It seemed like people cared about anything but themselves, and I couldn’t help but be a bystander and participant in the endless judgement that circulated campus. I avoided people I’d heard things about out of fear of being judged myself. And yet, the very people I avoided ended up becoming my closest friends junior and senior year. I’ve realized that word of mouth is anything but accurate or justifiable.
2.) Take time for yourself.
In the flurry of work, extracurricular activities, SIR, college applications, and relationships that is the IMSA experience, there seems to be little time to take care of yourself. Throughout my time at IMSA, I found myself being a sort of therapist. I’d listen to each of my friends as they told me their problems, cried to me about their stressors. My friendships became emotionally draining rather than fulfilling, and eventually, I withdrew myself from my community of friends. IMSA has a huge mental health problem, and the negativity that swirls around campus can seem stifling, which is why I realized how important it was to dedicate time to myself. Surround yourself with people that stimulate you, not people that drag you down.
3.) Figure out your work/life balance.
This one’s a bit more technical but definitely just as important as the first two. I remember during sophomore year, I spent hours working on homework and accomplishing less than I do now in shorter quantities of time. I hadn’t figured out what worked for me, so I was working inefficiently. I didn’t write down my assignments in a planner, so I’d ask other people when I forgot, or try to remember everything (which never worked). I didn’t keep myself accountable for my work, and no one else cared enough to help. The truth is, most people won’t care enough to help you figure things out. It’s your responsibility to reach out to others.
4.) Don’t compare yourself to others.
This goes hand in hand with number 3. It’s easy to think that someone else’s study habits work for you. Some people finish all of their homework during their free mods, or right before ten and then go to sleep, while some people prefer working on it early in the morning or late into the night. Try out different things and see what works for you! Having had a sibling at IMSA who aced every class, I felt embarrassed to admit that it was harder for me. I never even asked her for advice because I felt that she’d judge me for not knowing it myself. My parents often compared us and our academic performances, and I overlooked my strengths because I only saw hers. Whether you’re at IMSA or in the real world, there will always be someone smarter, stronger, faster, who’s done more research for longer, had more experience, etc. The only way to be happy with yourself is to find your passions, and that’s something I can truly say I’ve done now.
5.) Peer pressure is real — don’t give in
At IMSA, I’ve experienced a fair amount of peer pressure. From the unconscious collective mindset that getting less sleep is indicative of strength, to peers coping with mental illness through substance abuse, I’ve often felt encouraged to do things that I recognized weren’t good for me. At times, it will become hard to distinguish whether you are doing things because they’ve been deemed socially acceptable versus their relevance and necessity in your life. Stay true to yourself, because ultimately no one can define you if you define yourself first.
Most importantly, however, remember to have fun! IMSA will go by insanely fast, so by the time you’re a second semester senior like me, make sure you’ve done something to be proud of. Spend time getting to know yourself and others, and enjoy IMSA, because while it may certainly be the most stressful three years of your life, it’ll also be the most transformative and memorable experience you’ve ever had.