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What for?


Spring in Korea is a time marked by the steady blooming of cherry blossoms: signaling both the end of winter blues and the beginning of a new chapter of life. Endowed with a sense of renewal and commencement, many experience a perhaps unnoticeable but definite shift in their lives, whether physical or mental. For seniors, this means internalizing college results and crafting an elementary picture of what the years ahead of us have in store.

During the month or so before all college decisions were released, I must admit that the wonder of what the page linked to the “status update” button writes was always somewhere at the back of my mind. When grappling with a seemingly significant life event, overthinking is probably not of rarity; at the same time, I could not help but fathom how much everyone has come to be influenced by the achievement-oriented environment we have been in during our high school years.

High school at SIS, in many ways was a race: a race to get the gold not the silver, the 99 not the 95, the president position not the treasurer position. Often in question was the morality of tripping the next runner to come in 5 seconds faster. When some decided to give up the gold and instead go for the sportsmanship award, we applauded their efforts but kept running with those that were left. At every seeming act of injustice, we reacted vehemently and took speedy action to make sure that the race was fair, at least on the surface. And, while I was in that race, I indeed was one of those that never stopped running and fought for absolute fairness.

But now having crossed the finish line, what was it all for? Were we really all going for the same prize?

Unfortunately, I think the answer is no. At one point or another, we all put aside friendships, family, and passions in the name of future reward, that most often being admissions at certain colleges. Being a high school student is a future-oriented occupation; all the work and effort we put in is for not immediate gratification but future reward.

But what I realized is that when the finish line is in sight, many find that they actually don’t need or want the gold – all they wanted was an attainable and praiseworthy timestamp. And if we knew that that would be the case, would we have lived the past four years in the way that we did? Again, unfortunately, the answer seems to be no. Yes, academic achievement to the highest level is everyone’s goal, only until they realize what that entails in the long-term – perhaps a career and a life devoted to a field they do not genuinely enjoy.

But with graduation in less than 40 days, can anything really be done? Fortunately, this time, the answer seems to be the affirmative. While we cannot relive our past, what we can do at this point is to take the conscious effort to detach ourselves from the mindset to which we have been galvanized into.

Along similar lines, one aspect of such is the immense amount of our pride and ego we attach to the flashy rewards that are college admissions, which we sacredly consider to be the product of our four years of hard work. We look forward to the ultimate moment of achievement, when a college logo finally finds a place on our Facebook timelines with 300 likes and comments of congratulations: the epitome of the obsession over achievement through cut-throat and often unfair competition.

Changing our mindsets regarding college, achievement, and identity can have a larger impact on our community than we might expect. This ranges from small acts such as taking pride in whichever college we are to continue our studies at and refraining from judging the college one was accepted to based on our perceived efforts of that person, to taking the time to think about five, ten years down the road: what really matters to you? As cliché as that may sound, upon becoming an alumna of this school, I hope to return to a place that is more like such.