Words of wisdom for underclassmen

Senior editors share advice about school, friends and life

With a combined 12 years of experience at Cal High, we put our collective brains together to dispense some sage advice for those of you who still have a year or more of high school to finish.

Isabelle, Online Editor: If I had $10 for every mistake that I’ve made throughout high school, I’d probably have enough to pay for my college meal plan for next year. There’s just so much change that happens in four years, and I think that all of us are kind of thrown into this mess that we try to figure out all on our own.

I could just tell you to try and get eight hours of sleep every night or not to study last minute for tests the night before, but come on, let’s be realistic here. I don’t even do that. Let’s tread into the waters of existentialism instead: Why are you even in high school? 

Are you here because that’s what you’re being told to do or are you here because you have a clear goal in mind? Either way, you’re stuck in this four-year commitment that some people would even say could make or break your future successes. The pressure from everyone around you – family, classmates, teachers, etc. – can be really daunting. The way we react to these expectations set upon us as high school students is different for everyone. 

Sadly, there is no secret formula or strategy to make sure you live up to everyone’s expectations of you, but I can tell you that these expectations will only get bigger as you get older. You’re going to disappoint some people and even yourself at times. In those times, it’s important to remember that whatever effort you put into something, successful or not, will have at least some fruition. 

You may sign up for challenging classes, expecting to do well if you study hard enough but still falling short despite making a huge effort. It’s definitely happened to me, and I’m grateful that my struggle in some classes changed my perspective of my own education. While having a pristine GPA might help, not having perfect grades won’t make or break your chances to do something promising with your future in college, should you choose that path in life.

Just like that, you’ll find that the goals and rules that you’ve prioritized for yourself in the past will change. You’ll learn to celebrate that B+ you got on your test, or acknowledge that it’s okay to disagree with your teacher sometimes. You’ll find out that sometimes it’s impossible to please everyone in your peer circle and that the best way for you to be helpful to someone else is first to take care of yourself.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that as long as you keep your standards high for yourself, high school isn’t going to be easy. There is going to be some failure down the road and it’s going to be normal. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your standards high and your aspirations big for yourself. I’m a strong believer that how you choose to grow from failure is what makes or breaks your success, not the actual failure itself.

But enough about this philosophical mood that I got into. Here’s some real advice:

If you really don’t want to take an AP class but still want to get college credit for the subject, you can probably find the course at DVC. When choosing whether to take the SAT or ACT, keep in mind that the SAT has fewer, more in-depth questions with more allotted time while the ACT has more “simple” questions with less time and a science section. I’d advise you to take a practice test of both, because one test might be easier for you than the other.

Lockers aren’t very useful unless you have a ton of textbooks that you don’t want to be lugging from home to school. If you’re going to take AP Euro, prepare for carpal tunnel. Don’t think you can grind for AP tests in three weeks, because you can’t – please start studying for at least a month in advance if you’re taking multiple tests. The cleanest bathrooms are in the Fine Arts building and wellness center. And to the younger students, don’t try to get a locker on the first floor of the main building and don’t sit at the lunch tables inside of the cafeteria. Those are for upperclassmen. They’re just unspoken rules. 

My dear underclassmen, mistakes come hand in hand with disappointment, but don’t let those things discourage you from the aspirations you have. The only one who can tell you ‘no’ to your dreams for the future is yourself. Classes will get harder and you’ll find yourself in sticker situations than you’ve ever been in the past, but learning and growing from them will only make you more prepared for what lies beyond the last four years that you’ll have to figure everything out before adulthood. Good luck!

Ronnie, News Editor: I think the best advice I could give someone for high school can be broken down into three essential things: one practical thing for the academic part of school, one essential thing for social life, and one key lesson you need to remember for the rest of your life. 

The most practical thing to do in high school is to have a plan. I know it’s hard to have a plan with how much things constantly change, but trust me, having one saves you a lot of the painful stress that every senior feels in their first semester. Plan for what you want to do for the rest of your life, and if you are not there yet, spend time to find interests and passions. The first two years of high school are a great time to do that. If you do have a solid plan and know what you want to do, take classes that are related to that. 

Do not take classes completely unrelated to your major because you will regret it greatly. Pride is often the enemy of many people, myself included, who think they can bite off far more than they can chew. Remember that balance is the best way to maintain a somewhat stable mental health. However, I’m not telling you to not take five AP classes. If you can handle it then you should do it, but don’t do it because you feel a pressure to do it. 

The second thing to remember is that your friends are more important than you think. You are often the sum of the people you surround yourself with. Try as you might, your friends can easily bring you down to a person you never thought you could be. I’ve seen countless people become versions of themselves they said they would never be. But on the flip side, your friends can be a lifeline, make you the best version of yourself, and help you reach your full potential. So it’s imperative that you choose wisely, the decision you make could impact the rest of your high school career.

You’ll often hear horror stories about friends stabbing other friends in the back. People will tell you that the grass is full of snakes, and that trusting people is dangerous, but that’s simply not true. Almost all friendship failures are a result of poor communication. While some people may simply have poor character, you will find that they are in the minority, not the majority. So fret not, and remember that other people can’t read your mind, if you need to say something, use your voice. 

The last and most important thing to remember is that you will lose at some point. I can guarantee you that somewhere in your high school career you will take a massive loss. Whether it’s losing a friend, breaking up with your significant other, getting rejected by your dream school, or not making a sports team. More than just high school, but life will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. I’ve lost more times than I can count, I’ve been beaten to the floor and crushed flat by my own mistakes. Yet every time I was able to rise. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but if I can manage to do it, I truly believe everyone can. 

So good luck on your journey, and remember that everything works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out yet, it isn’t the end. 

Michelle, Features Editor: One of my biggest struggles was acknowledging my own self worth. From my small comfort zone, I watched all of my friends and noted the distance that grew as they moved on ahead without me. It reminded me how all my life, my mom bragged about her friends’ children and compared me to them. The same question was asked each time, “Why aren’t you as great as them?”

I tried my best and to some, my best was barely worth anything. I couldn’t study as hard as others, and my grades weren’t the greatest. Eventually I gave up trying to catch up, ignored all the comments about how I was the “weak link” within my friends, and set off onto my own path at my own pace. After all, I am the only one who needs to know that I tried my hardest and I don’t need any other form of validation to love myself.

Perhaps all of this advice is nonsense to you. This seems like a lazy man’s excuse to not try. You’re off to become a Junior Olympian, juggle 10 extra-curricular activities along with seven AP classes, and this dumb girl is telling you that you can take a break and just take it slow?

Of course not. If you are thriving at a fast track pace, then good for you. If not, maybe take a small breather and allow yourself a little wiggle room. You are not a robot. You are human, meaning you can also get burnt out. Go at your own pace, don’t listen to others when they tell you to “slow down” or “hurry up” in academics, work, or in your social life.

My own pace included signing up for classes at DVC, where I was free to take weighted college courses that fit into my niche interests of film and media studies. These weren’t classes I could ever take at Cal and in my opinion getting college credit by watching and analyzing movies will always beat writing a DBQ in AP European History class.

Of course, feeling comfortable going at your own pace is easier said than done. It’s hard finding the pace that suits you and sometimes there are factors that make you feel like you have to go faster. You’ll run into a lot of problems, but don’t forget that the only failure in life is when you truly give up without trying your best. 

It’s okay to take a step back and breathe and do something else in the meantime. But don’t give up if you truly want to obtain the results you were looking for. If you tried your best and the goal is no longer something you want, giving up is totally okay. No need to try on something that won’t be worth it at the end. (This also applies to friendships or any other relationships, if that person is toxic then ditch them ASAP!!) 

But perhaps you don’t know where you are heading in life, that’s okay. Most of us don’t as teenagers in high school. There’s no need to run so hard to a location that isn’t even known to you. Slow down, open up your experiences through clubs or free classes to see what might interest you, and remember that your goals don’t have to be grand as earning a six figure or becoming the next president (because honestly who would ever want that job for fun). Your goals right now could be amazingly simple as just wanting boba for lunch tomorrow and that’s valid.

One last reminder I have for you guys, hard work doesn’t always guarantee success. As frustrating as it sounds, you’ll realize that a lot in life. You could spend endless nights studying for a final but still fail while the kid who cheated on it passed. Grinding all four years of high school doesn’t guarantee you a spot at your dream school, it might go to a kid whose daddy bought the school a whole new library. 

Gaining success without money or nepotism will always need luck, and so I hope luck will find you all in great health and joy.