I’m a junior at Santa Monica High School, almost a senior.
I was born in Santa Monica, and I’ve been here all my life. I attended an alternative public school called SMASH from K-8th grades, which had a big impact on me.
It’s a very small school, only 250 kids or so. It has a really interesting model - you don’t really get typical grades as you’d think of them, instead, you’d have an evaluation at the end of the year. The school was so small the teachers could write a full page on each student and you they did that year and how they got to know you. You get to build a relationship with your teacher along with the rest of the kids - I grew up with the same circle of 30 kids or so for nine years. When we reached 8th grade we had this existential time thinking of how the next year we wouldn't all be together anymore.
SMASH was more about exploring what you like to learn and less about whether you got a 90%. The way I think about school now is a very goal-oriented mindset. The goal is measured in numbers rather than how much fun I am having while I learn, or how much I want to learn.
I’m taking rigorous classes, and I usually surround myself with people who share that similar goal, but I feel a disconnect in a way. I do strive to get high scores but I feel like everyone around me is more stressed about numbers, etc. I miss not being surrounded by that stress.
Engineering. It started out fun - it’s Project Lead the Way, a national engineering program that I actually did in SMASH for years which helped me automatically get into the program at SaMo. When I started off freshman year we were doing 3D modeling, and it was fun and interesting. When you have to figure anything out you’d go step by step.
It’s the hardest class this year. When we got into the principles of engineering, the AP physics teacher was too advanced for us. She should be building spaceships or something. I’d never had a problem with math ever in my life before this.
But what I came to realize is that it’s not the end of the world if you get a B on a test. Also, even if I studied so long for a test, it doesn't matter. Before, I would have this mentality of time = if I study more, I’ll get a good score. But no matter how much I studied it didn’t happen.
It put things in perspective because I realized maybe there are some things I just have to put off for now and focus on other parts of my life that need development.
So I still studied, but instead of just grinding every day, I actually took some time off started playing piano and reading nonfiction - basically stuff that would allow my mind to not feel like it’s wasting time. I knew these would bring me joy in the long run, kind of like a mimicking school for my mind.
I think engineering taught me balance. If I hadn’t hit that threshold of what I couldn’t do, I wouldn't have learned it’s good to have balance. It’s still trial and error every day. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and balance out your brain. Junior year is way harder than sophomore year, but I’ve been able to get more work done because instead of being stressed constantly, I don’t have all my eggs in one basket now. So I’m not worried constantly about stressing about failing school and then failing life.
I think engineering taught me balance. If I hadn’t hit that threshold of what I couldn’t do, I wouldn't have learned it’s good to have balance.
AP environmental science. I think it’s an extremely important thing to learn and should be a mandatory subject for all high schoolers. I don’t want to get into too much or a rant, but that’s kind of our future. I also just really like how it explains how everything that happens is one small thing causing another bigger thing which then causes four larger things. I like that about environmental science: the cause and effects you’d never expect to happen. It’s a scavenger hunt to see what would cause something to happen.
I’d like to be in a four-year college by that point. I’m aiming for UCLA or UC Berkeley, but I’m also looking at college opportunities in Germany, even though I don’t speak a word of German. My older cousin’s been in Germany for years studying finance/economics and seeing how much he’s changed and learned just being in another country... you’re just learning every day: hearing new sounds, seeing new things... I think it’d be super cool to change it up and see what it’s like to learn in a different part of the world.
Engineering, as of now. There are a lot of different options. Computer, electrical, mechanical and so many things. I know that if I commit to that I won’t be stuck. Also, if I do apply to a school for engineering, I have the four years in high school under my belt I can show. In Germany, the technical schools are so low cost, I could practically attend the Harvard of engineering schools for almost free.
I naturally am also interested in psychology and therapy - my mom has a masters in psychology - and my friends are always teasing me about how I try to diagnose whatever is happening. It might just be the way that I think but it’s definitely something I’m interested in.
Spontaneous yet level-headed when we need to be serious. That I don’t lose my temper. Funny.
I have a semi-small but very tight-knit group of friends. We get into fights constantly. We’ve known each other for so long we know every part of each other that makes us mad. I’m usually the one they call to kind of mediate and ease out the situation. I’m sort of a Dr. Phil type.
I want people to see me as smart and able to convey ideas without being based on the way I sound. I’ve had a speech impediment my whole life, and when you meet someone that’s the first impression you give. A lot of the time I can’t even say my name when I meet someone.
Because of that, I often pick words that are easier to say but don’t capture the full meaning of what I’m meaning to say. Sometimes people don't even know I stutter because I'm hiding it by choosing weird or simple words that don't make sense. I don’t want people to see the words I’m using as an indicator that I don’t know what I want to say. Because I do know, and that is the part that is annoying. I just can’t always say it in the way I want to.
Well I’ve picked up some more now that we’re in the whole lockdown. I’ve been reading, studying a lot for AP exams. I play video games - currently, Uncharted 4 - those types of games really inspire me to be an engineer - like, how do they even do that?! I’m trying to pick up yoga again; I took it sophomore year for a year and I miss the way that I felt during that, more hyper and energized.
I like thinking about stuff. I find myself just thinking about how things work and also more philosophical things, like how there’s so much happening in one moment but then in another part of the world there is nothing happening. I’m always thinking about things like: how is there so much chaos in one moment and then somewhere else it’s stillness? These thoughts usually happen when I’m working super hard on something, focusing on a completely different thing. It feels weird - the vastness of everything. How so many other things that can be focused on at one time and that’s how everything was built. How was all this built, how different, individual people focused on one part. How someone could figure out how to build a chandelier.
I wrote an anthology sophomore year because I had an English teacher that was like Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society. He made us write this 60-80 page anthology on one subject we had to pick and examine and write about for over five months. I guess it would be equivalent to a thesis. Mine was about “fear,” and I had to do original art, poems, expository essays, reflections, film reviews, interviews. It’s the most daunting thing I’ve done in my life. When it was done we had to print it out as a book and turn it in. He was hyping us all year for it and I almost hated him but I did it and I felt very accomplished. It’s a time capsule for my sophomore year. When I’m 40 I’ll know exactly the way I was thinking at this point in time.
I just don’t want to waste it on stupid things, like focusing on the wrong stuff. I want my school to allow me to figure myself out, which is more or less that is what adult life will be like.
It’s also important to go to a school in a place I like - I could never go to the middle of nowhere. I’d rather be enjoying it around me as I’m studying, looking around me. That’s partly why I want to go to school in Germany. I spent a lot of my high school in a room, studying. College is more of an opportunity to be somewhere I’ve never been.
My dad has been in a weekly men’s group for over 20 years. They help and support each other. Recently they had the idea of starting that same team but for kids my age. So every month, on Zoom, about 16 kids and dads meet. I see a lot of them as mentors per se, in becoming the best person I can be. They emphasize always telling the truth and being up front.
There’s not really another place in your life that you can talk to a bunch of people that you relate to and feel safe with what you’re saying. It’s let me know that there is always a space I can go to and always feel safe. I’ve brought the others into it and it’s definitely helped us.