Thursday, June 14, 2012

Parting Thoughts

             My sister is a big proponent of what I would classify as the “live and learn” parenting doctrine. Tattered and bruised, her kids navigate the treacherous hardwood each day, slowly discovering what household items will and won’t hurt them. It’s difficult to not intervene sometimes, but after one outing with the scalding oven door, you can be sure they won’t make that mistake again.
 This kind of approach seems much akin to how I felt at Park. When I shadowed the sixth grade for the first time, students boasted about their school having no grades, no uniforms, no rules. Ludicrous, I thought. Where’s the structure? Progressive culture was entirely foreign to me. By the time I realized what had actually happened to me, it was junior year already. I thought I was taking advantage of the system, abusing the liberties given to me so graciously by the school. But I wasn’t. The system was working exactly how it had been intended to work.
Sure, I slacked off on homework at times, as did the majority of students. There were eventual ramifications, though. Soon, my hand would start to burn on the oven door. The punishment, however, didn’t come from the teachers; the punishment came naturally. It didn’t take the form of pain or embarrassment, but rather disappointment. Reading a bad report was like being informed that that last twelve weeks of my life were effectively wasted. There is no parallel for that feeling, no better motivator for those of us that take pride in our academic work. The principles of the school operate under the belief and expectation that no student wants to feel that kind of disappointment.
Howard talked to the incoming freshmen this year about our “invitational culture”. He warned them that what you get from Park is contingent upon what opportunities you take advantage of—what “invitations” you RVSP to. It’s not as simple as that. I would assert that the declined invitations can be just as much of a learning experience as the accepted ones. Granted, it’s not the brand of conventional learning that Howard was referring to, but it lends itself to an important kind of self-discovery. I wasn’t particularly active in clubs throughout high school. Instead, I preferred to spend my free time doing weird things with my friends, like decorating a bathroom. I wouldn’t have had the same opportunity to do that at another school, and those moments feel incredibly precious in my memory. They were times when the stress of school seemed to disappear altogether, times that provided me with the energy I needed to get through the day. I don’t know that there is a way to waste your time at Park. No matter what you decide to do with it, you’re constantly surrounded with so many great minds that, through a sort of intellectual osmosis, you will get smarter.
Our school is a special place, one that I took for granted for a long time. It’s not perfect—hardly anything is. But as I depart, I’d rather focus on the good things than the bad. I had a truly exceptional four years and I will always be grateful for what Park has done for me.