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 Aaron Calhoun (West Point ’24), who lived in 1507B during his senior year. He was actively involved in track, was basketball captain, and started a physics/machine learning SIR with Dr. Hawker.
“Chicago”, the place that, if you listen to your townspeople, is at constant odds with the people of the “rest of the state”, as the city responsible for statewide fiscal instability and political gridlock. It then follows that the education found within the golden gates of Chicago is of the highest degree and is far more meritorious than the rural towns state-wide. To students like yourself, IMSA can be the frustrating embodiment of oversensitivity and politically correct culture or the escape that transports you away from the town that you resent with a passion. Whatever IMSA and your rural town mean to you, it is of the highest importance that your time at IMSA is made to be as productive and tolerable as possible.
As if they were born with a calculator in their head and a textbook at hand, your roommates, wingmates, and friends will make you feel as though they are untouched by the stresses of homework. The thought of catching up with them may seem as probable as learning calculus overnight. Many students, regardless of background, find themselves falling victim to the endless mental barrage of insecurities surrounding SAT scores, math placement, and grades, particularly during sophomore year. This is truer for rural and underprivileged students than it is for any other group, partially because of the immature and hyper-competitive nature of sophomores and partially because of the daunting quality of the privileged and dedicated suburban kids. It will sometimes make you feel like God himself has blessed those around you with the talents of knowledge unattainable to you.
Combating these natural insecurities is a long and often endless task which for many is the most important assignment they will receive at IMSA. What you can reclaim, though, is the ability to be wholly self-aware of your upbringing, educational opportunities, current situation, and, most importantly, outlook on education. Understand that yes, you may not have been given the same opportunities or even known that not studying math or computer science at a young age would ever cause such a problem, but what separates you from the other students is not an inability or trait, but years of hard work and acquired studying techniques. As simple and cliché as “hard work pays off” may sound, it is rarely taken to its fullest logical conclusion. What it means is what you want it to mean. What this idea, even ideology, means, is whatever it needs to be for to best realize your full potential. It suggests that the destination is available for everyone no matter the length of the road ahead.
A complete and unconditional belief in hard work may, on the surface, leave you with the emotions of self-defeat and disappointment in your ability to excel at a given task. However, it enables you to set failure as your baseline and success as the primary focus. SAT scores, college acceptance, and other metrics used to subtly attribute worth to one another mean nothing but a difference in opportunity or circumstance. Poor results despite best efforts no longer mean stupidity or failure, but a lack of ability because of, well, any reason you want it to be. Your rationale for failure can be whatever you need it to be, so as to keep your inner self from faltering. This rationale is commonly a lack of privilege or opportunity, which may or may not be true, but it serves as a “feel-good” surface measure that prevents the collapse of grit and determination, the only meaningful measure for combating challenges. The excuse you give is for you and you alone. It is a protective mechanism that allows you, not to make excuses in order to surrender but to move forward with an unbroken work ethic.
You must knowingly allow yourself to make internal excuses, if needed, to control your own attitude in instances where control is not feasible and later make well informed, clear, and determined alterations to habits and techniques. This is a tool applicable to situations where motivation seems all but lost. It is a short-term lifeline for any set back no matter the extreme severity. Knowing that your main goal should be to objectively look at the successes and failures of both yourself and your peers will enable you to best refine your habits educationally and otherwise at a later time. Give yourself time to breathe before you rebuild. When unconditionally standing by the equalizing nature of hard work and using purposeful short-term excuses for setbacks, your absolute potential will be realized in and outside the classroom.
Take the hard classes and be particular in your pursuits. Excel in effort, not in GPA. Relax and know, in the end, you have done all that is possible.