Doing things just for fun again

Every+single+decision+I+made+was+carefully+calculated%2C+based+solely+on+what+it+would+contribute+to+my+resume.

Graphic Illustration by Sharlene Chen

Every single decision I made was carefully calculated, based solely on what it would contribute to my resume.

Emma Cionca

As a 12-year-old, I would read “How to Write Your College Essay’” prep books. My parents thought it was a good idea to expose me to these ideas, as it was never too early to start preparing for my college applications. In eighth grade, I was presented with the choice to pick between two high schools to attend: Lynbrook or Cupertino High School. Lynbrook was rumored to be highly academic-oriented and produce very successful students, so I left my middle school friends behind to “prioritize” my education and future. 

During my freshman year, I joined a club for every single day of the week, doubling up on clubs if I could — one during brunch and one during lunch. Sophomore year, being accepted to the Epic, I gave myself the leisure of quitting one of my other clubs. After a relatively unproductive summer due to the pandemic, I felt obligated to add extracurriculars to my resume junior year and joined several new clubs to pile on top of my AP workload. Senior year, I knew I wouldn’t have as much time as I did junior year — we would be in school again, and I needed to work on college apps. I quit Speech and Debate and French club but maintained Epic, Link Crew, Indesign, field hockey, National French Honor Society and Intersections.

My high school experience was defined by a never-ending feeling of exhaustion. I had my fair share of fun times, but it was nevertheless extremely tiring. Every single decision I made was carefully calculated, based solely on what it would contribute to my resume. The culmination of all my sleepless nights and weeks of straight stress was college application season, which is an experience I never want to repeat. The personal statements, essays, extra questions, forms, fees and transcript requests never seemed to end. But all of a sudden it was over. My applications were submitted, and what was supposed to be a semester of freedom began. 

Now don’t let anyone lie to you, because “second semester senior” doesn’t exist. If anything, I found myself with even less time than I had before. Even worse, college decisions began to come out — which was disheartening to say the least. In a way, I was relieved I was getting into schools, but on the other hand, I felt what I had put myself through had amounted to insufficient results. All the work I had put in during high school did not help me accomplish whatever impossible standard I held for myself when it came to college acceptances, and it was increasingly difficult to look at everyone else’s successes without seeing my own failures. 

When I received my acceptance to the University of Texas at Austin, I didn’t think much of it. In fact, I hadn’t even seen that I received a decision from the school until they sent me an email two days later congratulating me on getting in, no doubt assuming I had opened the decision email already. I could have never imagined myself going to college in Texas, but the thought of the acceptance was always in the back of my mind as the rest of the college decisions came out. I think I always knew that was where I was going to go, but I chose not to admit that to myself until May 1. 

I’m happy with where I’m going. It’s a great school, and I’m sure it’ll lead me to have a successful future. But, I’ve decided to take college as a time to be a little mediocre. No more joining organizations just to put on my resume, no more unnecessary sleepless nights, no more putting stress on myself for things I don’t even want to do. What I put myself through in high school was not worth it, and by the end I wasn’t even sure who I was doing it for. Did I want those accomplishments or did I want to be able to show the people around me that I did it? High school in the Bay Area is genuinely one of the most competitive tasks a person can experience, and just like many students around me, I fell victim to the toxic environment. 

I can sit here and dwell on my regrets from high school and whether things would’ve turned out the same if I had spent a little more time with my friends, but that won’t do me any good. As cliché as it sounds, college does give you a sense of freedom, and it’s time to do things just for fun again. The sense of academic pressure I’ve grown to possess won’t be gone anytime soon; however, with less external pressure, I hope to learn to value things other than my academic achievements. My younger self would no doubt be disappointed in where I am now, but my younger self also didn’t understand that there was more to life than doing things for my resume.