By Megan Pan ’18
Since perhaps as early as the beginning of the year, I have been thinking about what to write for my last editorial. There are so many things I would want to say about my time here at Pingry that it became impossible to choose one aspect that could fathomably capture it all. Ultimately, I decided to simply share the following excerpts from an exchange between myself and Mr. Keating—not necessarily to showcase its content, per se (though it still might prove applicable nonetheless), but more so because I believe it highlights the most essential and valuable aspect of the Pingry experience: the meaningful relationships developed between students and teachers.
from my final journal for Mr. Keating’s freedom class, dated May 2, 2018:
“Going into college, I can’t help but feel a sort of dread of what’s to come. It’s like I’ve jumped out of one high-pressure cooker to land into another, and I honestly don’t know if I’m mentally fit to last. Somehow, this kismet of mine feels both like a blessing and a curse—a curse in the sense that I feel like I’ve ushered myself down a path that is only going to make it harder and harder for me to come to terms with myself and be happy. As long as I walk down this path, it is going to be a matter of another challenge to surmount, another person to compete against, all of it a desperate and lonely claw to the top in search of the elusive validation of academic success. Is that what my whole life is going to be, my fate and my happiness never within my own reach?
… When I first read over the final journal prompt, my initial reaction was, ‘Of course, I can find equilibrium and contentment. Of course, I can succeed where Chris McCandless failed and be satisfied with the outcome of my life.’ But now that I’ve reflected on it a bit, I realize that I’m not so sure. Over the course of the past thirteen years, I’ve given so much of myself to a system that now it’s hard to delineate where the influence of the system ends and my genuine self begins. I can’t help but wonder if all I’ll ever think of myself and my life as is a list of accomplishments that can never reach a length I’ll be satisfied with. How can I be happy like that?
Going forward, I think I have some real work to do when it comes to analyzing what I enjoy doing and what makes me truly happy. I think the first step I plan on taking is removing the emphasis I’ve placed on school for the past how-many-years of my life. During the summer transitioning between high school and college, I hope to be able to explore many of the things that I’d like to try that I haven’t had the chance to fully enjoy in-depth before.
… But before then and even after the summer passes, I hope to be able to focus more on the people in my life and who will come into my life in the future. I really do think it’s true that ‘happiness [is] only real when shared,’ and by putting more effort into the relationships I have with the people around me, I think it’ll help to take a load off the exhausting and lonely burden of existing. I never asked to be born into this world, but at the end of the day, neither did anybody else, and we’re all here to make the best of it. And I’m sure, wherever happiness decides to fly on elusive wings, we’ll be better able to find it together than alone.”
from Mr. Keating’s response to my final freedom journal, dated May 12, 2018:
“You’re right: we do not ask for the life we are born into (Sophocles actually said that the greatest boon may be never to have been born at all), but we are given the chance to make the most of it we can, and that possibility, a blank page or canvas, a bare stage, a college acceptance, draws from us the resolve to muster all we can from who we are, and I simply cannot imagine that your chance will end in self-defeat and disappointment.
I have read and heard countless stories of people who struggled through adolescence only to find themselves as adults. Oscar Wilde called his formative years ‘vaguely detestable’ and he became a celebrated playwright, novelist, and aesthete. Come to think of it, that’s a terrible example because Wilde ended up disgraced and imprisoned, but I think you know what I mean. I grew up with plenty of encouragement from my folks, but when I told them I wanted to be a high school English teacher, they told me I should teach at the college level; I was settling for less, they said, and not tapping my full potential. This criticism went on for years, even as I became a good teacher and got recognized for it by just about everyone except my parents. But they did come around eventually, and when I won a yearbook dedication in 1994, they threw me a big party. And when my mom died three years later, the very last thing she said to me was how proud she was that I had become a teacher. That was sixteen years after I began my career, which is a long time, but it meant the world to me, and I am still inspired by it to be the best teacher I can be.
It may take a while, Megan, but you will find yourself and gain your freedom. And it is my sincere hope that in ten years, or sooner, you will return, a simultaneous translator, a banker, a veterinarian, or whatever, and share your good fortune with your old (as in former) teacher. Nothing would please me more.”
With this final sendoff, I would like to thank you all for having known me and supported me throughout the past four years. Undoubtedly, it was the people that came into my life that made my time at Pingry worth it, and the experiences I’ve had at this school, particularly the people in it, are not ones that I would trade for any other. I wish you all the greatest happiness in your lives, and it is my hope that our paths will one day cross again.