I turned the poster over and looked at the four names on the back. They were all written in the same, large handwriting—my handwriting. With the poster board right-side-up again, I studied the text written across it. It was in the same handwriting as was on the back. Again, it was mine. I began to think about past group projects at my local public school. Most comprised poster boards along with in-class presentations. Although the assignments were meant to be “group” efforts, most of the time, it ended up being an individual assignment with four names on the back. This school was a place of effortlessness and ease, where success came to everyone who showed up. It was without challenge. However, although my graded success was abundant, I could not meet my own need for intellectual success. It was this hunger for learning and understanding that drove me to seek out challenge, even if it meant changing schools in order to find it.
If the equation for success and happiness is two parts hard work added to one part perseverance, then I should have been immersed in the fruits of my labor. However, this was not the case. I had a stack of Mead three-subject notebooks, filled with notes, lying on my bedroom floor, but they were never needed. Definitions, diagrams, and practice problems, they all filled these notebooks, but they were all for naught. The good grades were flowing, yet I did not feel as if I was reaping the benefits. I did not understand. How could I be putting this much energy and effort into the equation with no resulting products? There must have been a limiting reactant somewhere. I just had to sniff it out.
After several late nights of introspective contemplation, I found my equation’s limiter: comfort.`
I was not happy, yet I was comfortable. I finally realized that maybe I was unhappy because I was comfortable. The lack of homework as well as the excess amount of free time meant that yes, I was comfortable, but not in a good way. Day after day my parents would ask: “Why aren’t you doing your homework?” To this I always responded: “I don’t have any.” It was this sense of comfort that caused me to sink into an educational rut. This was a paradigm shift for me; the craving for exceptional grades transformed into the craving for exceptional knowledge; without personal growth, comfort was a curse.
Without personal growth, comfort was a curse.
Recognizing that the curse could not be lifted at this public school, my family and I decided to make a very daring move: enrollment in a different school. Different, however, could not adequately describe the way my new school, Randolph, would feel to me on those first few days. Not only would it be different, it would be full of firsts: a first day, a first class, a first teacher, a first friend, all collected together in one big first: a challenge.
Realizing that this change would affect every facet of my life, I stepped back to think it all over. I asked myself: “Would I like it there?” “Would I fit in?” and most crucially, “Would I grow from it?”
This last question oddly caused me to think about my mother’s hanging flower baskets. When fresh from the greenery, the flowers consisted of bright red blooms rising from lush, green foliage, reaching towards the heavens. But after days of dry heat along with erratic watering, the red buds withered into a pale auburn, until finally giving way to gravity and falling to the floor. However, my mother insisted they could be saved. Through a diligent watering schedule as well as brilliant light from the unclouded sun, the flowers rose from the black soil and became red with vivacity, even more than when they were new. This gardening resurrection showed me that anything, no matter how wilted or dry, could be saved with the right care, even me.
I was rooted in the local school system; this was where I grew up; these were my friends; this was my school. My roots, however, were beginning to dry up. The soil in which I was planted no longer had the nutrients that I required. I was wilting away from the sun and away from challenge. I desperately needed to be transplanted into new soil with the right nutrients. I needed to not only survive, but thrive. Without this, I would certainly wither into dormancy. Randolph was the soil; the classes were the water; the teachers were the sun. With these key pieces, I would surely re-bloom better than before and reach higher into the sky than I could have ever imagined. For just as plants need soil, water, and sunlight, I needed Randolph.
I desperately needed to be transplanted into new soil with the right nutrients. I needed to not only survive, but thrive.
This endeavor would not be easy, however. When I first arrived at Randolph, I was hit with a severe culture shock. Being an outsider, it was not easy to assimilate into the school community consisting of people who had been peers for ten years before me. There were countless new faces along with countless new personalities. So much “new” meant that I had to act fast in order to find my way. It was as if I was sailing into a port I had never been to before. There were also much larger vessels, all floating in a pattern backwards to that of my previous harbor. As I sailed into my new dock, I had to adjust my normal routine of steerage and throttle, until I was safely resting against the pier. The port that was Randolph was vastly different from that of my previous school. Everything from the parking lot layout to the lunch line procedure was different. Although the “boats” were different and the “flow of marine traffic” was unfamiliar, I found my way and docked safely. Randolph was a beacon of hope in the rough seas of learning.
Within a week or two, I knew everyone and everyone knew me. With all these new eyes looking upon me, however, an immense amount of pressure seemed to build on my shoulders, for there was so much material that I had never seen before. Skills that most students at Randolph called natural, I had to learn. Never before I came to Randolph did I have to write an in-class essay; in the seeming short span of my first year as a Raider, however, I had written more essays than I had in all my life. This abundance of new concepts initiated a new instinct in me that I didn’t know I had. While it took many late nights to reach the academic level that was necessary, it was a blessing. Studying was an alien notion to me, but I had to adapt and learn how to in order to survive. Never before had I worked so hard, yet been so proud. I dove into the demanding curriculum head first and never looked back.
The decision to move schools was the best decision I have ever made. It unleashed a creative and curious side of me that I had never seen before. While it was hard to leave the comfort and stability of the public school, I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t. It changed not only the way I look at the world, but also myself. It taught me that hard work was necessary in order to reach my goals, for through hard work and perseverance, there would always be a happy ending. Contrary to the teachings of my old school, Randolph taught me that if I try new things and stay open to opportunity, I would never stop learning, and therefore growing. I had found the challenge I was searching for. My equation was finally balanced.
Raymond joined Randolph in the 10th grade. The photos included in the post were taken on the first day of school that year. Raymond serves as a Lead Ambassador with the Admissions Office. He is a Band Captain and trumpet player, Habitat for Humanity Club President, a tutor and volunteer with the School's Youth Leadership Council, and a member of the golf team. Outside of school, he is a Crestwood Medical Center Youth Volunteer. In the fall, Raymond will attend Vanderbilt University on a pre-med track.