“In a few years you’re going to college,” my ninth-grade English teacher cautioned us. “And no one is going to care about what you did in high school.” Similar sentiments have echoed around me for years — from teachers, parents and, just this April, students at Yale. “Next year, nothing from high school will matter anymore.”
This remarkably off-putting message never seemed to make sense coming from my high-school teachers: If nothing I do in high school matters in college, why am I doing it? (The obvious answer: to get into college in the first place.) Yet despite the counterintuitive nature of these warnings hearing that “in-college-no-one-will-care” is a routine part of the first-year experience. College fearmongering is a favorite pastime of school teachers and veteran college students alike, and along with the burden of creating our own schedules, the irrelevance of high school accomplishments is perfect fodder. My generation has been conditioned to see the summer between high school and university as a three-month-long reset. We all believe that this fall, along with new friends and a new home, we’re starting with blank slates — dull, untested ore ready for forging in the fire of a college education.
But we’re not dull, and we’re not untested. In fact, many of us self-identify as over-tested. We represent a generation of students from public, private, parochial, charter and home schools. We’re international and domestic and local. We’ve interned for politicians and completed art installations and passed tough (college!) classes. We’ve used our gifts improving our communities, teaching English to marginalized populations, mentoring budding writers and starting nonprofits to combat modern-day slavery. Some of us have written poetry. Others have led teams to local, national and international repute. We’ve earned the respect of our hometowns, and we’re ready to earn Yale’s.
This summer reboot is not just an Ivy-League phenomenon, but as newcomers to one of the most selective institutions in the country, we feel its weight more than most. It’s most evident when first years and beyond describe their experiences with imposter syndrome and feelings of inferiority. The out-of-place feeling so many of us have grappled with already is caused, at least in part, by the utter control-alt-delete we’ve had to set on our previous lives and identities. In many ways, a fresh start can be a wonderful thing — a chance to reinvent yourself, if you want, or an opportunity to broaden your horizons socially, academically and extracurricularly. But in juxtaposition with the high of new beginnings can be the crushing weight of new challenges we must face under the watch of unfamiliar eyes.
First years, we need to remember that all the hard work and passion that we channeled into our high school careers is a part of us, and it won’t go away in our new lives. We have the capacity to succeed here just as we did in high-school. Returning Yalies, be ready to greet a class of thinkers and leaders. We can’t wait to join you.
The things we’ve accomplished have made us stronger: Our experience as activists means we’re ready to take on the Yale Political Union. Our long hours in marching band have prepared us for the nerve-racking audition process to the Yale Symphony Orchestra. Our time researching in high school labs has set us up for success in our rigorous Yale chemistry class. And whatever it is about us that made Yale admissions staff take notice is exactly what will help us succeed throughout these next four years. We’ve done so much already — Isn’t that proof we can do so much more?
We’ve been accepted to a university with a vested interest in mentoring the best and the brightest, and we’re already contributing to campus. So, when we’re writing our CVs and applying for programs during our time at Yale, it’s true that we may not be able to cite all of our high school experiences. But they can’t be taken away from us either.
I’m proud of the things I’ve worked for in the past, and I know every first year feels the same way. So please, stop telling me that no one cares what I did in high school.
Reilly Johnson is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .