By Rachel Chen ’18
If I had a penny for every article or piece of advice I’ve heard about getting into college, I’d be rich enough to actually pay my college tuition.
And what I’ve gleaned from them is this:
- Good grades and test scores are a must, supplemented by
- extracurriculars, leadership, and service, along with
- interpersonal skills, preferably practiced on teachers who you can charm into writing great recommendations.
It’s as if everyone and their dentist agrees that these are the ingredients for an Ivy League pie—serving size: 1, best served without sleep or social life. And to be sure, there is definitely some truth to these prerequisites. But in my opinion, they’re all simply symptoms of what colleges are really looking for: passion. Passion for learning, for meaningful activities, and for connecting with and serving other people.
But the problem is, college prep becomes a kind of fake process. We start believing we need to show colleges a certain persona, even when we’re not that person at all. Colleges want extracurriculars? Sure, I’ll join Extracurricular Club. They like leadership? Let me check if Leadership Club needs help. They expect community service? I heard Community Service Club is running a fundraiser this month.
So in the process of turning passion into little boxes on a checklist, we start to think of college less as a four-year opportunity to learn and grow, and more of a “prize.” It becomes the ultimate measure of our character and careers and something that we can and should “earn.”
But if there’s anything I’ve learned this year, it’s that the system is not fair. It’s not a machine where you input your accomplishments and it spits out a college you “deserve.” Any troll with the time to browse College Confidential will realize that brilliant people—geniuses who post outstanding resumes and flawless scores—get rejected all the time.
So what’s the point of changing your character into someone fake and different when the system is flawed anyway? Why devote your time to things you may not even care about when another troll out there is doing the same things to create the same fake persona to show colleges?
In my opinion, the only way you can really win in this often zero-sum game is to actually be passionate. To find things that you really, truly love, and study and practice those instead. Love hiking? Outing Club is looking for leaders. Enjoy cartoons or astrophysics or video games? Join a club and turn it into something meaningful. In short, be real.
I am lucky enough to say that I have really, truly loved most of what I’ve done at Pingry. This school allowed me to break from my parents’ idea of college prep activities and pursue things I really enjoyed. When I quit piano after years of competition and picked up squash, they didn’t even think squash was a real sport. Squash became a source of confidence; my vegetable sport brought fitness into my life and taught me that I can push myself just as hard as everyone else. Instead of the math and Science Olympiad competitions they thought I needed to participate in, I chose journalism and feminist poetry.
However, there were also things I applied for simply because of their prestige or the pressure I felt to pursue them. One that comes to mind is iRT. Don’t get me wrong, I have grown to love the team and the big picture of our project even when I want to scream from the frustration of constant failure. But sometimes I wonder if I would have applied in the first place if I hadn’t thought that iRT was the most elite institution to join to demonstrate interest in science to colleges. Nevermind that I hated analyzing data and troubleshooting experiments; research felt like a necessity for my college resume which, in retrospect, I had to actively choose to enjoy.
Sidenote: as many classes and clubs Pingry offered me, it gave me tenfold in faculty support. A huge factor in developing my appreciation for science research (alongside other passions) was Dr. Kirkhart. Besides keeping the Ladies of the Lateral Line on track, she discusses books about feminism with me and reminds me that life exists beyond high school. Listen up: your teachers are so much more than a grade-arbiter or a rec letter. They are your friends, and they will ground you in the tumultuous journey of high school.
Making the decision to actively love what I did made me ultimately so much happier. Some of the most rewarding and defining experiences of my life have come out of things that were not planned for “success”; those CP talks with teachers and a casual rant turned Lebow speech are just a few that come to mind. When you choose to actively, earnestly give your all to something you care about, suddenly life is not just about getting into college anymore. It’s meaningful. It’s fun. It’s good.
We worry about how colleges perceive us, but if we are truly what we say we are, then I doubt our characters will get lost in translation. Ultimately, this concept stretches far beyond college admissions—to meeting people, making friends, and forming real relationships—because college is such a short blip in the timeline in your life. Be a real person. Don’t fake love, but feel it—deeply, generously, with an open mind and ready heart. Why go through life trying to create a different image of yourself when you can make the real thing so much better?
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.
By Rachel Chen ’18
When I heard about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, my first reaction was not to have one. “17 dead, 14 injured…” the car radio droned, and I remember thinking, oh. Another one. And I promptly forgot it.
I strive to be compassionate, but after years of hearing about mass shootings every few months, the concept of a mass shooting has lost its tragedy to me. It has become too regular an occurrence for me to summon up the same intensity of grief and despair that it once did. So on Monday afternoon, during an unseasonably warm fire drill, I forced myself to feel the visceral fear of those students under attack in Florida. For one searing second, I tried to imagine what might occur if an active shooter were on campus.
Would I dodge behind cars? Would I run fast enough to reach the BAC? Would I scream as my classmates were cut down, or would shock prevent me from registering it?
Now and in the moment, I shudder. My heart pounds in my ears. 17 dead in a high school of 3000 broke the Parkland community; 17 dead in our entire school of just 1000 would shatter us.
Something needs to change. But why hasn’t it already?
Everyone who passed middle school social studies knows that the Second Amendment guarantees the “right to bear arms,” an important provision in the Revolutionary era for establishing democracy in the face of tyranny and military
abuse. Since those days of muskets and bayonets, the Second Amendment has become a symbol of ultimate freedom—perhaps even more so than freedom of religion, speech, or press.
While other rights have served the same purposes throughout time and thus become established as simple, non-negotiable rights, the right to bear arms has nearly lost its original purpose
as guns become more developed and dangerous. Less thanphysically defending the republic against oppressive government military abuses, it has now evolved into taking an ideological stand for freedom—to the point where owning a gun is a deliberate exercise of that freedom, and the gun itself is used only for recreation.
So the symbolic power of gun ownership drives gun advocates and the National Rifle Association (NRA) to block any legislation proposed to curb our near unfettered access to military grade weapons. Instead, the national conversation
is redirected toward improving the mental health system to prevent the severely mentally ill from obtaining weapons and arming teachers to defend students.
But would these solutions be effective? I doubt it.
In my nightmarish reimagination of our Monday afternoon fire drill, who would be behind the trigger? I may not know any severely sociopathic, mentally volatile aspiring murderers, but I can think of many socially isolated, frustrated, angry teenagers who think they deserve better. Committing every adolescent who fits that profile to a mental institution and a lifetime of mental health stigma would be a greater offense to
constitutional freedom than any gun control restrictions could be.
And who would defend us? Should Dean Ross bring a weapon to Morning Meeting, just in case Should Dean Cottingham carry her pistol from her office to English class in the same bag as her laptop and glasses case? Would I feel any more safe surrounded by teachers with guns who have no experience or desire to wield them?
The image is absurd. Surreal. And for me, the answer is no—no to armed teachers, and no to an “improved” mental health system that confuses adolescent rage and clinical psychosis and treats both the same.
Thankfully, students are stepping up. The survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas are speaking out, arranging marches and protests, and challenging their representatives to take a
stand. The sorrow that ought to paralyze them is driving them to greater action, and I am grateful for their leadership in this fight for our lives and futures.
And yet somehow, their suffering is not enough. In the eyes of some prominent national leaders, our loss does not make us qualified to speak—it disqualifies us, because we are too young. Too blinded by emotion. Our tiny, undeveloped
prefrontal cortexes are too easily manipulated and influenced by the freedom-hating left agenda.
Somehow, it is the people furthest away from the situationwho are qualified to speak. It is those who are calm because they are remote, who are unafraid because they are unaffected. It is those who are “rational” and “experienced” because they will never have to picture themselves hiding underneath desks and behind cars from classmates wielding AR-15s.
What would the victims of Parkland say to that?What would the founding fathers think? Maybe I don’t know enough. I don’t understand the intricacies of politics, the checks and balances, the hard-earned compromises that got us to today. I definitely don’t understand the appeal of and attachment to assault weapons that so many Americans feel so passionately. But here’s what I do know: I am 17. I go to a school—like
Sandy Hook, like Columbine, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High—and I am afraid. I may not have all the answers, but I think I deserve a chance in finding them.
By Megan Pan ’18
In the past few weeks, we’ve had the chance to hear some excellent speeches about parenting. At the LeBow Competition, Jonathan Chen (V) talked about his parents’ “endless love and endless support” and urged us to “thank those who support you,” while at last week’s Morning Meeting, Mr. Keating shared stories about his own parents and encouraged us to “pay attention to how your parents are raising you.” Even Mr. Andrew Onimus, in his presentation at the Carver Lecture, emphasized the support he received from his parents in his struggle with mental illness. Spurred by their example, I’d like to take the time now to pen atribute to my own parents
Since before even I was born, both of my parents commuted every day to work in the city. Sometimes if I woke up early enough, I could hear from down the hall the rustling sounds of my parents getting ready in the morning.
Nestled underneath the warm covers, I listened through a semi-conscious, sleep-clouded haze to the sound of water striking tile in the shower like keys of a typewriter, the crisp click of my mother’s high heels and the swift zip of a jacket, and finally the distant roar of the car ignition growing ever fainter as my parents drove off into the dawn. As I heard but never saw my parents in the mornings, these sounds were the only confirmation that my parents did in fact exist prior to six in the evening and did not simply materialize every night out of thin air, complete with work-weary faces and the perfume of the commuter train.
Nevertheless, it was anything but an unhappy life. The many grown-ups who watched over me during the day treated me kindly, and there was no shortage of love on the part of my parents either. But even if I can say that now, looking back in retrospect, I can’t deny that there were times during my childhood life when I simply felt that something was different. Not missing, necessarily, not wrong either—just different. In the eyes of a young child learning to observe the world around her, the small inconsistencies between other families and hers must have imprinted themselves in her mind; a quick kiss planted on a reluctant cheek in the morning carpool line, a lunch box complete with sandwich and sticky note lovingly packed, a pair of arms outstretched in greeting, waiting at the door—she must have circled them in her memory as if they were objects in a game of spot the difference.
My parents’ love felt like the light of the sun—brilliant, warm, and vividly palpable, but ultimately exer- cised through the physical barrier of distance. However, I never felt any resentment towards them, even as a child. In fact, it is as a result of their absence in my childhood that I believe I am able to better appreciate them now. As opposed to being something that is taken for granted, their presence is something that is alive and dynamic, like a flower wriggling its roots through the dirt or a fire breathing smoke through its embers. Throughout the years of my development, I have grown up and become increasingly independent. One by one, the adults who had watched over and cared for me as a child have let go of my hand, and I have since stepped forward to join them in line as a fledgling adult myself. The responsibility for my own well-being has now fallen squarely on my shoulders with no one else to lead me.
That is, with the exception of my parents. Even now when I’m expected to be able to walk on my own, my parents still remain by my side and serve as a source of guidance and support. But unlike the child for whom the surrogate love of others eclipsed the solitude she felt, I have since learned to become receptive to my parents’ love in every form that it takes.
In parting, I would like to urge members of the Pingry community—adults as well as adolescents- to remember their parents and to be forgiving of them. If there is anything in my perception of my parents that has changed from childhood, it is that I have learned that they are fallibly, beautifully human, subject to the same emotions, desires, and fears as we all are. The true strength of my parents’ love manifests itself in its endurance. Throughout all this time, it has never wavered or faltered—instead growing to overcome any barrier in its way, like vines of ivy winding their way upward, ever upward in search of sunlight.
By Megan Pan ’18
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ever since I was young, I’ve had a strong sense of attachment. My mother told me that when I lost my first tooth, I cried over the loss of a part of me that had been with me for seven years. As I grew older, this sense of attachment developed into a fear of losing hold of the past. While the eponymous hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby attempted to recreate the past in the present, I preferred instead to hold on to what remained.
Tangible objects served as portals to the intangible; I kept notebooks from elementary school, saved old voicemails on my phone, and held on to even the most trivial of mementos, like gum wrappers, in order to have an extant link to the people, places, and experiences of my memories. In my mind, preserving my memories of the past in the present validated their having happened, and to lose a piece of my past in the present was to lose the past itself.
In March of 2015, my grandmother passed away. She was the cornerstone of my childhood, practically raising me as my parents worked in the city. My grandmother played a part in all of my happiest memories: teaching me how to ride a bike, driving me back and forth from school, telling me stories before I went to sleep. Upon her death, I lost a beloved family member who was as precious to me as my own life, and the world with her in it that I had known for all my life crumbled away.
I was living in a postmortem world that I never imagined could have existed, and I was unable to find any way of fully bridging the gap back into the world of the past. I had photographs, of course, and clothes she had worn, journals she had written, gifts she had given me—but none of it was enough. Like Harry Potter’s resurrection stone, they managed to conjure the image of my grandmother, but they could not bring her back, nor could they represent the entirety of the love and warmth that I missed.
It was my grandmother’s death that led me to reconsider my obsession with the past. Up until that point, I had lived my life with a retrospective focus, with a preference for the preservation of old. However, during my period of mourning, I realized that my grandmother would not have wanted me to dwell on her death and to forget to live. Everything she had done for me while she was alive was in service of my future, and to disregard that was to dishonor her memory. My grandmother taught me that I must embrace living in the present, trusting that what really mattered from the past would stay with me.
In about two weeks, I’ll be turning eighteen. What a strange thing—the inevitable passage of time! Though my heart feels entirely like that of a child, its vessel has managed to outgrow itself. To be perfectly honest, I never imagined that I would live to see the day I turned eighteen. I don’t mean this in a morbid sense—it’s just that, throughout all these years, the idea of adulthood always seemed so far away, a fantastic mirage somewhere in the distance, beyond the boundary of where I could ever reach. But come January first, I’ll have crossed a threshold, and the door on my childhood years will be gently shut.
However, this isn’t to say that my connection with the past will be completely lost. Though her physical form is now a relic of the past, my grandmother’s spirit has remained with me in the person I am today whom she has helped to shape, and I trust that she will remain with me still in the person I am becoming. Each moment I have lived of life up to this point will play a similar role, molding the clay of my character—hopefully into someone who is kinder, stronger, braver, wiser—as I look forward into the future.
There will always be a part of us that will never completely relinquish its fondness for the past. Nostalgia is a powerful force, so much so that it was once considered an illness afflicting certain groups of people. James Gatz was forever tethered by the remembrance of the past, unable to ever move forward toward the future. However, the plight of Gatsby does not have to be the fate to which we are all condemned.
Instead, the past can serve as the wind in our sails, pushing us past the current as we venture out onto the open sea.
By Rachel Chen ’18
I’ve been crying a lot lately, but here’s the latest reason why: on November 26, I decorated the family Christmas tree for last time.
It was the latest of many lasts that weekend: my last Thanksgiving I’d welcome my sister home, my last squash tournament road trip with my parents, my last Thanksgiving dinner I’d sit at the “kids’” table instead of the “adults’.” I suppose they all compounded, unacknowledged, until they hit me like a double-decker bus at 12:09 AM as I stared into the glowing ornaments and shimmering tinsel I had hung. Who’s going to decorate the tree next year? Who’s going to make Mom and Dad excited for Christmas?
I could see it in my head so clearly—Christmas, always powered by my sister’s and my incessant Mariah Carey singalongs and burnt sugar cookies, fading from our household, evaporating like breath on a windowpane. My parents had only ever loved the holidays as much as Marcia and I did. Would my parents still give each other gifts when the two of us were gone? Would they even put up a tree?
My tear ducts, overworked as they are in the season of giving and college applications, started to flow. Marcia knew wordlessly why I was upset. “Did you know,” she started, pulling me in for a hug, “that 90% of the time you will ever spend with your parents is over by the time you leave for college?”
Now, I’ve searched for this statistic and can’t find it anywhere. But confirmed or not, it still packs a punch to the heart. Realistically, how many hours will I spend with my parents after I leave for college? A summer here, a holiday here. Blink twice and I only call once a week between my work commute and dropping my kid off at school. That not-so-distant future is a far cry from the Sunday morning pancakes and long car rides and Costco runs we share now.
And that explains why they’ve been so lenient lately. Classic symptoms of early onset empty nest syndrome—I just didn’t recognize them until I put the star on the top of the tree. In the past few weeks, my parents have bought my sister and I orchestra tickets to Anastasia on Broadway (amazing show, 12/10 would recommend!); gifted us a slew of lululemon clothing; even surprised us with entirely unnecessary, expensive Fastpasses for our winter break visit to Universal’s Harry Potter theme park. They’ve displayed an uncharacteristic indulgence with their eat this, do that attitude. Nothing is a waste of money anymore—not if it offers happiness to enjoy, an experience to share, another memory to cherish.
Their indulgence makes me ashamed of my behavior during the past few weeks. I’ve used stress, exhaustion, and anxiety as excuses to be snappy, self-centered, and rude. And worse, my parents have simply tolerated it with closed-lipped grimaces because they love me, wholly and unconditionally—the way they have for the past seventeen years, they way they will continue to forever.
Okay, maybe I’m being overdramatic. I’m sure there will be other holidays in the future for which I’ll return home early enough to untangle the lights and hang up stockings. But staring at the Christmas tree at 12:09AM, I took a breath during my race to move on—from high school, from Pingry, from family—and felt, for the first time, that I wanted everything to stay the same.
So here’s what Marcia told me, that I’m now telling you: it is your duty to make every minute of these last few years count. Be kind. Be patient. Be present, because here is something wonderful and exciting and terrifyingly sad, all at once: everything is going to change. Everything is changing already. Treasure these moments before 90% of your time with your parents is gone.
I’ve been counting down the days till I leave for college for years now. I just never realized that Mom and Dad have been, too.