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MIT student blogger Afeefah K. '21

Musings of My High School Senior Self by Afeefah K. '21

bring your best cringe face

Well, the moment is finally here. My last first day at (virtual) MIT.  And it feels just as surreal as it felt when I got to campus for the first time. Everything was so new and there was this sense of wonder in the air. I didn’t know how to get around campus, I didn’t understand the secret numerical language everyone seemed to speak and I barely knew a handful of people from CPW. Four years felt like such a long time back then. I could barely see myself passing my GIR classes, let alone see myself make it through to the very end. My mid-lecture anxiety attacks of freshman year simultaneously feel both forever ago and just like yesterday. I still remember getting a whopping 34 on my first midterm at MIT. I remember thinking that the test must not have been graded out of 100. I remember the exact moment when I realized that I had not only failed my very first midterm,  but I had failed it drastically. I remember the disappoint I felt in myself when I had to drop and retake courses. I remember nights when I didn’t know a single face in the dining hall. I remember every single moment that I felt like I didn’t belong or that I simply wasn’t good enough (and boy were there a lot of those moments).  Four years later, it’s still hard to believe that I made it through. That I found my place and my crowd at MIT. So to remind myself of all the ways in which I’ve grown, I looked to the past. I put on my oxygen mask and took a deep dive into the cringefest that is my writing from senior year of high school. Tbh senior year me had some wisdom to share. Wisdom that I kinda needed to hear again. So in honor of my last first day at MIT, here are some things I wrote around four whole years ago accompanied by a hopefully less-cringey commentary from present-day me.

Friday was the {last} time I took a school portrait. Wait, let me correct that. It was the [first] time I took a senior portrait. As I walked into the school, my 30 pound backpack hunching me over as I struggled to make it up the staircase, immature fifth graders transformed into beautiful and handsome young adults, glistening in their layers of makeup and white shirts. As we took turns putting on our half graduation gowns (yeah, who cares about the other half of you that doesn’t show in the picture!?), reality hit for the first time. In just seven months the family I had built within my school will disperse. The people I had grown up with for the past seven years will go different ways. In seven months, we will be standing in alphabetical order wearing full graduation gowns, (beware of cliche) shining like our bright futures. Honestly class of 2017, where has the time gone? Excuse me, I’m going to go sob now.

Welp I never got to take senior portraits for the MIT yearbook. But to compensate, my friends and I took grad photos on Killian last semester in case our graduation went virtual and we weren’t invited back in the Spring (both of which did in fact happen).  When I packed up and left campus in November, the Class of 2021 was scattered and we never really got a chance to come together and revel in the pride we felt for one another. Honestly, my good-bye moment was very much March 2020 when we all left campus for the first time as the pandemic was brewing, because that was the last time I existed as a normal college student at MIT. In many ways I still feel like I’m stuck in junior year and senior year doesn’t feel very real.

Gather around children, it’s story time.

Let me tell you about this folder. So I have this folder, right? Royal blue, made out of thick 8-by-11 paper…This folder has been the best thing that has happened to me this school year. I mean who needs a binder and plastic dividers when you can just throw in all of your loose leaves into a folder right? That’s exactly what I thought. So I left my binders in my locker to collect dust. Now, I know what you’re thinking. How can the folder possibly hold a semester’s worth of assignments, notes and paper? Well let me tell you, at some point it seemed possible. I kept pilling paper after paper in the folder until the inevitable happened. This past week, the folder ripped as any paper under stress would do. The stack of papers I had collected slipped one by one, creating a heartbreaking mess in the middle of the hallway. Yeah, the folder broke. It’s in the trashcan now.

I know. I know. It’s a real heartbreak. But as they say, there is something good in everything. As painful as my separation from the blue folder is, I learned a few valuable lessons that I want to share with you. One, never overwork something. Everything has a max capacity and as optimistic as a person you may be, it’s going to hit a ceiling and break into pieces. There’s only so much it can handle. Only so much food you can stack in a plate before it all comes crumbling down. Although people hate admitting that fact of life, everything has a max capacity. So be aware of it and don’t be ashamed. Two, if you’re really determined to overwork something, at least by a plastic folder. I mean come on. You know that paper is the worst material to rely on for strength. But hey, if overworking is your thing than make sure you’ve got the right support. I promise you, plastic will outlast paper. Three, always go with the binder. Even the plastic is going to break one day. Why wait for the same mid-hallway show when everything can be organized and clipped away in a binder. Everything gets overworked at some time. So how does one avoid a fall? With support and organization. Find your binder rings that hold things in place and get organized, divider to divider.

P.S. The Folder is not just a metaphor, it is a 100% real. I really did spend an extra two bucks to buy the blue folder.

This long, stretched metaphor is a true work of art. One of my best pieces of writing if I am going to be honest with myself. At the time that I wrote this, however, I don’t think I fully understood the lessons I was drawing. Over the pat four years, however, I think I’ve come to understand. Overworking is not a pretty look at all. I’ve tried the whole skipping social experiences to pass a class. I’ve tried the staying up late into the night to get things done. And I never feel good after. So yeah, I’m over the overworking for the sake of overworking now. The reality of working on a timeline however is that sometimes overworking is inevitable. And when that did happen things that pulled me through were my friends and classmates and good nourishment. 100% support can make or break you. I also don’t carry things in folders anymore, iPads and Notability for the win.

Well, here I am, headed towards one of the biggest changes life has to offer: adulthood. And as everyone is simultaneously going through their own transformations, mysteries become plenty and phone notifications become silent. The very kids that I have grown up with for the past seven years are using the remaining six months to walk down separate paths to adulthood. Circumstances have changed, relationships have changed and people have changed. Everything really is temporary, and that is a 100% ok.

People come and go, and when our paths collide we exchange stories and emotions. And that exchange is incredibly beautiful. Because, although temporarily, we get on to the same train. We grow together and we give another a part of our lives. Looking at it from that point of view, nothings is truly temporary. Circumstances may change. Relationships may change. People may change. But what doesn’t  change is the strange feeling you get when you’re about to leave a place. That regardless of where you go, your memories won’t be the ones to change.

So this one is really interesting. I was mainly reflecting on how my high school social circle seemed to be dissipating as everyone was getting ready to move to different cities and start new chapters. And it honestly made me really sad to think that distance would come in between the people I had essentially grown up with. Four years later, as we all are getting ready to graduate again and start a whole new set of chapters, we actually have grown close again. In the depths of college we were all busy with our own lives, but in the midst of the pandemic and everything else that’s going on, we’ve been in touch a lot more. I guess that’s a testimony to the fact that even though we all don’t see each other everyday the way we did in high school, our friendships still exist and we are still there for one another. And that gives me a lot of hope for the continuity of the friendships and relationships I’ve formed at MIT.

The digital clock on my laptop says that I have twelve minutes till I get to see the results. In reality, the results are already out. Since Boston is a whole hour ahead of us, tau time has technically already happened. But regardless of what it is that the decisions page will show me, I want this to be a special moment. I want this to be a moment that I remember for years to come, the plunging included. I’m going to be honest with you: i am incredibly proud of my application and the work that went into it. I truly think I was able to portray myself in my truest and best form to the admission officers. So regardless of what it is that the screen will tell me, it is going to be 100% ok. Because here’s the thing. I love you MIT and I love you MIT Admission Officers, but frankly I think I know myself better than anyone else out there. So hey, it is what it is.

Ok, so there are three minutes to go so I’m taking deep breaths here. I just thought you might want to know that I have filled the room with American Author’s “Best Day of My Life.” Good Vibes Y’all. Good Vibes.

Bro who was I? I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to associate a song with my decision opening. This could have gone very poorly, leaving me unable to listen to a single beat of “Best Day of My Life.” I wish I believed in myself and in things working out the way I did in this moment. My post-MIT plans are still very much up in the air and the uncertainty combined with quarantine have not been a good mix. My GRA from junior year once told me that the key to succeeding is “reminding yourself that you know yourself best and letting your most authentic self shine.” That’s exactly what I have been trying to do but it doesn’t seem to be working. But hey, things play out in the exact way they are meant to. So we can either sit and stress out about them or take things head on and make the most of them. Right? right? Eh my state of mind is very much a work in progress.

And as the new year rolled in (what? it’s my graduating year already?), I have to give myself a pat on the back for how I welcomed it. Now I know 2016 was a painful and regretful year. For many, the confetti that filled the air in Times Square was no different than a cleansing rain shower. Whether it be the dehumanization of refugees, the war-torn state of overseas countries (#prayforaleppo) or political demoralization, 2016 is indeed a year to bid goodbye too. And while many have entered 2017 with the most powerful tool we all possess (hope) I took a slightly backwards approach. Of course, hope and optimism is plentiful in my soul. But rather than looking forward, I entered the year looking into the past.

2017 is a revolutionary year for me. It marks the year of my transition from high school security and safety to the blurry world of college (I still find it incredibly fascinating how within the next few months I will finally now where the next four years of my life await). 2017 also marks the year that I legally become an adult, waving farewell to the sweet years of my childhood and adolescence. 2017 is a revolutionary year for me.

It’s almost eerie how I can just switch out 2016/2017 with 2020/2021 in this chunk of writing. 2020 was an incredibly challenging year for all of us, and I’m still figuring out how I’m supposed to recover from it all. I was listening to The Argument (a podcast by NYTimes) the other day and they were discussing what life after the pandemic would look like. On the topic of the future, they were talking about how we collectively have no sense of “future” as a thing in time because we’ve all been pushing our futures back over and over again. Oh no in-person graduation for the 2020s? Maybe a celebration in 2021? Oh no celebration in 2021? Maybe something in 2022. Of course this is just one example of how the future keeps getting pushed back over and over again. But yeah, like I think 2021 will be a year of new beginnings and change but what even is the future you know? Currently, I’m just trying to focus on the present and am trying to romanticize the little everyday things like cleaning my room and making avocado toast in the morning.

“Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined. For one moment, walk outside, stand there, in silence, look up at the sky and contemplate on how amazing life is. No matter what it is you do; don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Always remember that God knows best and never leave him. Never let go of a chance to love your parents. Be nice to your siblings. Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in your life because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were younger. Because sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be, the person you wanted to be, the person you are”  – Freshman Afeefah to Senior Afeefah

This is actually part of a longer letter I wrote to myself in my freshman year of high school for a class assignment. My human geography teacher then tracked us all down when we were seniors and gave us our letters back. So basically I wrote this a whole eight years ago which makes me feel really really old. I don’t write like this anymore, but maybe I should? It’s full of cheese but positive affirmations to thyself can do wonders. All good reminders younger me, all good reminders.

And perhaps it is exactly this that fueled the grand finale. After fifteen hours of competition, running around and anxiously waiting, energy was unwavering as the yellow school bus, tottering it’s way down the highway, filled with the unanimous singing and shouting of Disney songs. Because some of us just couldn’t hold it back anymore: a whole new world can be just as mysterious as the dark side of the moon.  And just as so, with medals to take home and memories to hang on walls, they moved on, riding off into the sunset (much like John Grady does in All The Pretty Horses btw, very symbolic.)

I went through this phase senior year of high school, where I thought it was cool to speak in lyrics and book quotes. I don’t have the memory space to do things like that anymore.

Nothing in my life is set-in-stone right now. I feel like for me, life is a punching bag. And every time I take a punch at it, it flings back new tasks at me. Bam. Here’s a new set of issues for you to stress out about.

An accurate representation of how I have been feeling for months. But I do kickboxing every now and then so I know how to duck now.

In attempt to dissuade myself from the amount of thinking I’m going to have to put into planning my future soon, I am going to make a bucket list for the remaining month of high school. Because, hey you aren’t going to get this time back. So why not make the most out of it. And believe me that month is closer than it seems, especially considering the fact that I finally got my cap-and-gown today. But I digress. So here’s my bucket list (really just some dreams, aspirations and goals I guess). Also, if you are a fellow senior, I challenge you to make your own list, whether it be mental or physical. Make the most out of what you have left. Graduate with no regrets.

-Make a painting for my fav teachers

-Look at Los Angeles from the Griffith Observatory  (because ayyy senior memories)

-Finish my high school scrapbook

-Watch the sunset with my fellow seniors

-Try something new

-Actually have a Senior Skip day

-Have a meaningful conversation with someone I barely talk to

-Buy a super Texan dorm decoration

-Walk that stage

This is a really really good idea. I’m spending this next semester at home because the seniors were not invited back to campus :( So this is actually my very first semester that I will be fully virtual. I already don’t feel much like an MIT student and I have a feeling that is only going to grow. I should come up with a new list of things to do this semester to make the most out of it and stay engaged with the MIT community. Here are some initial thoughts:

  • Write hand written cards to friends, professors and people I have worked with before graduating
  • Set up at least one zoom call with someone I haven’t talked to in a while every two weeks
  • Come up with virtual events and invite people
  • Figure out a safe and memorable way to celebrate virtual graduation

What was my beautiful ending, you ask? No, it wasn’t graduation. It wasn’t Pomp and Circumstances. It wasn’t the turning of the tassels. It wasn’t even the throwing of the hats. Nope. It was the last day of senior year. The last day of high school. The last day of a balanced sleep schedule. I spent the entire morning searching for a feeling of farewell.  And for the first four hours, I didn’t find one. Everyone kept going as they were. In more ways than not, it didn’t even feel like it was the last day.

With less than half an hour till the final bell of our lives, that moment I was searching for took toll. Let’s just say my pals and I gathered into a circle to make a pond out of our tears. And no I did not cry first. In fact, it wasn’t any of the people that you would expect. Rather it was the people I’ve NEVER seen cry in the past eight years. You know, they just had a little something in their eyes. And honestly it’s the most unexplainable feeling to see someone cry for the very first time. You can quite literally hear your heart break and shatter into millions of little pieces. But there, in that moment, seeing them cry made the rest of us cry. And it was the most beautiful thing in the world. It was a feeling that justice can’t ever be done to. Because it was just that darn beautiful.

It just makes you realize how powerful of a relationship we have. The past eight years pass in front of your eyes like a movie reel. For a split second these incredible seniors become sixth graders again. And they become sixth graders fully. The pre-adolescence chubbiness. The immaturity. The bulliness. The awkward haircuts. All of it. And then you take one look around to realize just how beautifully every single one of them has grown. And you realize that you basically saw all of these people grow up. And they’ve watched you grow up. You realize that we’ve impacted each other in ways that far exceed the imagination of any sixth grader. These are the people that were there for you before you even knew what to call yourself. It’s truly a one of a kind bond. One that brings tears to the people that “aren’t criers”. It fades the entire world. Because, yes, other people simply won’t understand our tears. It’s a moment that belongs entirely to us. We said goodbye to the moment in the only way we knew: together.

This actually gives me a lot of hope. If I think about it, I don’t remember my high school graduation much. And I know that my college graduation would have been different, but what I’m taking away from this is that the things I remember and recall are not ceremonial but they’re conversations and time spent with people that mean a lot to me. I can’t make an in person graduation happen, but I can give it my all to build memories and connect with my friends and community at MIT. So while it is my last first day at MIT, I have a whole semester ahead of me, waiting to be filled with memories that I hopefully will be able to look back upon in another four years.