A Letter To My Younger Self

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My eighth-grade English teacher assigned each student the task of writing a letter to our future 12th-grade self. As a thirteen-year old, these four years in the future seemed like an eternity away. I had no idea what my life would be like as a senior in high school. Yet, here I was, tasked with the assignment of setting future goals, explaining my current social and academic life and values I currently deemed important. At the time, I could not imagine what I would think or how I would feel when I read this letter four years later.

Well, here we are; one presidential election, a global pandemic, Taliban victory in Afghanistan, several natural disasters and an insurrection at the US Capitol building later. I could have never predicted these events with even my wildest imagination. I am currently a senior and will be receiving the letter that I wrote in eighth grade sometime before graduation. I have completely forgotten what I wrote and while I am curious, I wish that I could go “Back to the Future” and write that same letter now to my eighth-grade self.
I know that time doesn’t work this way and that Marty McFly and Biff Tannen are fictional characters from a movie, but there is so much that I would like to teach my eighth-grade self about what lies ahead in high school. I hope that some of you reading this will gain some insight into the top five things that I would write today:

1. Get involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible, but make sure you stick with the ones you enjoy.
Extracurriculars are a great way to get involved in the community and learn about what you enjoy, but sometimes they can feel like just another pointless responsibility. I believe that it is worth trying everything once. Join any club that interests you and decide which ones you enjoy the most (you may be surprised). I joined the newspaper club in ninth grade to appease my parents and with the intention of contributing an occasional article. I had no idea that journalism would become an integral part of my life.

2. There is more to high school than preparing for graduation.
High school is a time for hard work, maturing, learning time management, developing study habits and yes, preparing for college. However, it is also a time to explore our interests, develop friendships and make memories. Four years will go by in the blink of an eye, don’t rush to the finish line, but instead enjoy the journey.

3. Always be respectful of your parents and teachers.
We all see the world differently from our parents and teachers at some point and that is okay. Strong opinions, stringent rules, assignments we see as pointless and curfews we deem ridiculous are something that every high school student has had to face. It has taken a while and lots of late nights commiserating with my older brother and friends but I finally understand. Our parents and teachers really do want what they feel is best for us. They are preparing us for the “real world” where deadlines are non-negotiable and decision making is crucial to success. Next time you disagree with your parents or a teacher, pause and take a step back. Think about why your parents have asked you to let them know where you will be after school or why it is important to memorize the periodic table. Truthfully, I am still not sure about the periodic table but I am going to keep thinking about it….

4. You can never have too many friends.
I used to make fun of my dad because he said that everyone was his friend. He would say “My friend who I buy my coffee from in the morning, my friend from the gym, my friend who I see on the train whose name I don’t know…” I always thought that my dad was just overly friendly. But as I get older I realize that these people really are his friends. He may not know every intimate detail about them, but they do share a mutual bond with each other. I am not naive and I understand the difference between close friends and acquaintances, but four years of high school has taught me that there are so many different types of friends that are important in my life. My advice is to hang out with your teammates, talk to your classmates and invite the kids a year older and the kids a year younger to the next party. Being a part of a close knit group of friends is an amazing feeling, but sometimes the best feeling is making a new friend out of someone that you never would have expected.

5. Hard work always pays off.
European History seemed impossible, the wrestling season felt like all of my opponents weighed 50 pounds more than me, and I just wanted to play more Xbox. Instead of more video games, I studied harder, made appointments with my Euro teacher, formed a study group and worked myself to exhaustion in team practice. The result was success all around. It wasn’t always pretty but I got through it. I learned that hard work and perseverance pay off. Putting extra time and effort into both my class and team, not only made me more successful but allowed my teacher and coaches to see that I really cared. As a result, they were happy to help me achieve my goals too. Don’t quit, keep working and you will see the results.

Zack Siegel is a student at Schreiber High School

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