It seems so long ago that I was walking around the bustling halls of my high school. My hair was platinum blonde, I had a ballet-slipper pink backpack, and I walked around with a sense of determination. I was known as “the singer”. It was a fitting name since I spent nearly all of my time either in choir, singing lessons, singing competitions, or shows. I would also go around campus singing everywhere—in classrooms, in bathrooms, in the halls—it didn’t matter. I was most happy when I was singing, and so, I sang everywhere!
Now, my high school years weren’t without trials, either. I struggled to keep my math grades up while balancing all of my extracurricular activities. I experienced my share of bullying too. One time, a boy I liked kissed me at a school dance. The next day, he went around and told the whole school he only kissed me because he was drunk. That hurt. That hurt, a lot. Another time, I was a dancer in the musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and I went on stage, smiling and dancing with a piece of spinach stuck in between my teeth. Eek! After I was backstage, a techy clued me in. Right then and there, I thought I would die of embarrassment. I thought it was—surely—going to end me. But, I got the spinach out of my teeth, and managed to finish the show.
Nevertheless, I really enjoyed high school. So many movies depict high school as the worst time in your life—and for some people, it might have been—but that wasn’t my experience. I found the activities and the people who brought me joy, and that’s where I spent my time. The theater was my home. Shows taught me how to collaborate with others, how to be silly and have fun, and how to put my soul into my work. It taught me to enjoy each and every moment because they go by, far too fast. Leaving my cast mates after each show was heartbreaking. We quickly—from rehearsals to opening night—had become like family.
Looking back on my high school experience, there are five important lessons I learned.
1.) Prepare for challenges. Realize that no one leaves high school completely unscathed. I have never met anyone who attended high school who didn’t face some type of challenge. Furthermore, I haven’t met a high school graduate who didn’t have some embarrassing story to tell. High school is a time of change, and can be overwhelming. So many things happen during that time—old friendships may end, new friendships may form, or you may discover new passions or interests. It’s also possible that you may become the target of a bully. If this happens, tell your parents or an adult you trust about it. Bullying is never okay and it’s all too common in high schools and on social media. Remember, bullies are people who are hurt and broken inside. Many times, people bully others because they are struggling with their own problems at home or at school, and they feel the need to take it out on someone else. Telling your parents, or mentors about what’s going on can help stop the bullying, and can also help the person who is bullying, to get the counseling they need. For more information about bullying and how to stop it, please visit: stopbullying.gov.
2.) Try new things. High school is all about getting involved and trying new things. Follow your curiosities. Does playing tennis sound fun? Then take a tennis class! Do you want to be a part of your student council? Go for it! Do you want to learn how to draw or paint? Take an art class. Don’t be afraid of not being good at something—honestly—you may not be good at everything you try, but that’s okay. It’s okay to not be perfect at something. Really, truly, the only failure in this life, is not showing up and trying your best. When you try new things, opportunities and people come into your life that can shape your future for the better.
3.) Find your people. What is true—or at least it was for me growing up—is that there are cliques in high school. That’s the bit that Hollywood depicts pretty accurately. There are the jocks, the math nerds, and the theater nerds… like me. It can seem pretty daunting at first. Before I found choir and drama, I felt pretty lost. My best friend was making new friends that I didn’t really click with, and everyone else seemed unfamiliar, or already had their people. This is why it’s so important to get involved in extracurricular activities. It not only looks good on a college application, but it also helps you to find your people. And most importantly, if you find someone you like, hangout with them, even if no one else thinks they’re cool. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about someone, it matters what you think. And remember, friends can come from anywhere, so don’t buy into the cliques too much.
4.) Do your best. What you do in high school, matters. Colleges will look—carefully—at your high school transcripts. They will analyze every grade, all of your volunteer work, your SAT scores, your letters of recommendation—all of it. What you do in high school, will directly impact which colleges accept you, and how much you receive in scholarships. Sometimes, your high school activities and interests are even reviewed, after college, by companies who are considering hiring you for a job. Woah! That’s a lot of pressure, I know. However, just do your best. If you are struggling in a subject, talk to your teachers, or your parents, or your mentors. If needed, ask for a tutor. Tutors are fabulous, miracle workers! They will give you an opportunity to ask questions and gain clarification on things you may have missed or not understood in class. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.
5.) Apply for scholarships and grants. There is money out there, waiting for students to claim it. Seriously. There are tons of scholarships—some are merit-based, others are talent-based, others require you to write an essay about a given topic, some are based on your ethnicity… there are a lot of them. Make an appointment with your school counselor, way before it’s time to apply for college. I cannot stress this enough. He/She can tell you all about the scholarships and grants that are available and what colleges would be a good fit for you. I did this, and I not only received great advice about scholarships and schools to apply to, but my college counselor wrote me a beautiful letter of recommendation. Awesome, right? If you would like to get started online, you can find information by visiting: studentaid.ed.gov. Also, remember to use discretion when looking for scholarships and grants. Make sure the scholarship information and offers you receive are legitimate; and remember that you don’t have to pay to find scholarships or other financial aid.
High school is an interesting time. There is a lot of pressure to find and hone in on your talents, and to do well in school. While those things are important, it’s also important to have fun! I know that when you are in high school, it seems like it will last forever, but it doesn’t. Like all things in life, it’s a passing season. As one of my mentors once said to me, “Enjoy the journey!”
Heather Lei graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a B.A. in English. She is a mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program which aims to help at-risk youth stay in school and attend college. Heather is also one of the producers of, The Greater Than Project, an interview style web series which focuses on stories of greatness—of triumph over challenge. Heather is a passionate storyteller who hopes that through the sharing of stories, we can better understand the world around us and more deeply connect with our humanity.