Senior Speech: I Believe in "Letting Go"

Posted by Nisha Mailapur - 24 April, 2019

By Nisha Mailapur '19

I believe in letting go. Throw away the textbook, allow yourself to fail, cry, treat yourself,
and, sometimes, just don’t care. I promise, it will do you well. At least, that is what I have come
to learn. As high schoolers, we tend to think that we are trapped in a bubble. A social bubble—are
you a library studier or do you prefer the cafeteria? An academic bubble—STEM or humanities? An athletic bubble. A number bubble—A+, A+, A+! We don’t see beyond these four years because we have not been trained to.SeniorSpeech Photo Nisha

Naturally, we are trained to come to school, study, perform well, and care because we are fated to the stress and challenge of college applications. As a senior, who has gone through all 3.5 years of Randolph Upper School, failed many times, and just applied to colleges, I speak from experience when I encourage you to take a breath and let go.  

I speak from experience when I encourage you to take a breath and let go.

Let me explain, in a bit more detail, what I really mean by “letting go." The way I have come to think of it is not focusing on the grades for their own sake, or what achieving something can get you later on in the future. On the contrary, “letting go” for me has become learning for just learning’s sake, not because it looks good on a resume. Instead of letting your grades, numbers, and stress take control, “letting go” means being in control of who you are, what you love to do, and why you are here in school.  
In biology class, I learned that “structure dictates function.” Every construct, biological or not, has some definite purpose. Comparably, in math, if I were to find the limit of a function before defining its parameters, my math problem would not receive full credit: arithmetical structure matters to derive answers. In Mr. Hillinck’s APUSH class, I have learned that history does, in fact, repeat itself: the color of our skin, our gender, our beliefs still divide our world. To me, everything seems so cyclical, fated, structured, so how can we just let go? Ironically, it was not until college application season last semester that I realized the importance of “letting go” and what it meant. Upon applying to UT Austin, I was asked, “Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provides an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?” I want to take a second to just pause and let you all think about what your answer would be to this question. “Do you believe your academic record (transcript information and test scores) provides an accurate representation of you as a student? Why or why not?” 

Do things because you want to do them, not because you have to.

Rather than relaying to you all what I wrote in response, let me show you. As a 9th grader, all that mattered to the “old Nisha” in school were numbers and my grades. I remember the time I came to Mrs. Hillinck’s room one day after school, all wide-eyed, beads of sweat slowly traveling down my forehead, to ask about my semester grade so that I could calculate the exact score I needed on the final exam to keep my current grade. Mrs. Hillinck reassured me, “Nisha, why are you so worried about your grade? Grades always reflect your understanding.” In all honesty, at the time, her words just did not register in my mind. My 9th grader self pondered, but how can my grade reflect my understanding when grades are about how smart you are? And, frankly, even now, I struggle with this concept of letting go, and not latching onto the grades. At the beginning of the year, I seriously considered dropping out of AP Calculus BC. I felt as though I just didn’t know as much as my classmates, I got scared by what people before told me about their grades in this class, and I panicked. After talking to Ms. Andrada about my concerns, like Mrs. Hillinck four years ago, Ms. Andrada reassured me, “Nisha, you know more than you think. You tend to second guess your first attempt and convince yourself that a problem is more challenging than it actually is.” Now, I love AP Calculus BC. 
Looking back at my four years at Randolph, I now am sure of the secret to letting go: as William Faulkner once said, “At one time, I thought the most important thing was talent [...] I think now that [...] the most important thing is insight, that is [...] curiosity to wonder, to mull, and to muse why is it that man does what he does.” Like Faulkner’s words, I always try to have purpose in what I do and choose. I cannot sit by the sidelines and take things at face value: I always inquire, ask, and challenge (in a gentle, “Nisha” way) anything that I am taught. Through this, I have come to love to learn. No longer do I dread classes, coming to school, completing college applications. I have let go. The secret to letting go is to have fun, and enjoy what you do. That is it. “Letting go” is nothing more than a change in mindset: find the small, positive aspects of any endeavor and latch onto that. Do things because you want to do them, not because you have to.  

Find the small, positive aspects of any endeavor and latch onto that.

As a senior, I continued to take courses in the humanities despite being a “science” girl, selecting AP Literature, AP Macroeconomics, and AP Spanish Language and Culture. Gosh, why?, you may ask. These classes push me to make interdisciplinary connections, motivating me to be a better student and person. As strange as it may seem, I love it: I enjoy the intellectual conversations that come with the intersection between the humanities and sciences. For instance, in AP Literature class with Mr. Gee, I find myself questioning, is human nature inherently bad or is it that our minds are wired to focus on the negativity? In AP Macroeconomics, I enjoy the numerous moments Mr. Hillinck alludes to biology to explain economic institutions. He says, think of markets as organic, always tending back to market equilibrium to maintain homeostasis. Or as Mr. Hillinck claims, memes are just like genes, they constantly evolve over time through mutations, through misinterpretations and changes in current pop culture. And I always had the dream of being completely fluent in Spanish by my senior year (which is, in part, my mother’s dream too). I soon realized that AP Spanish Language and Culture, more than fine-tuning my proficiency, allowed me to delve more deeply into my Spanish-Indian heritage, allowing me to ponder things like, how does the Mediterranean diet I have been exposed to as a child influence medical practices of the Hispanic world?
So while I could go on indefinitely ranting about my classes, I am here to tell you that instead of treating these four years of high school as an inevitable struggle, filled with classes and tasks that must be endured in order to get to college, let go and live in the moment, good or bad. As Ms. Jones, my elementary school art teacher, once said, “A mistake is just another opportunity for a rapid design change.” So learn to adapt, ask questions, take risks, and laugh it off when the rapid design change may not work out. When you come to realize that it is the learning and the doing, not the grades, that are important, only then can you truly let go. 
Thank you.
Developed in a format based on Edward R. Murrow's "This I Believe" commentaries, Senior Speeches are delivered to the entire Upper School at Community Time. Last spring, all rising seniors were invited to participate in Senior Speeches. The students met with Mrs. Hillinck over the summer to develop their topics, draft, edit, and practice their delivery. Mrs. Hillinck worked with students in a similar capacity at her last school, Chestnut Hill Academy, and said it was one of the most rewarding things she did because of the peer feedback and confidence it gave the speakers.
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Topics: college, math, science, senior year, hard work, journey

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