Talia Weisberg, right, with members of Manhattan High School for Girls Class of 2013.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2013.
I’ve recycled my notes, donated my uniform shirts and buried my high school files into folders hidden deep inside my computer. I graduated from high school in June and won’t need these things anymore. Throughout my senior year, I couldn’t wait to dump all of my school items. Now that I’ve switched my mortarboard tassel to the other side, I’ve begun to reminisce about my four years in high school and wish that I were a student again.
Since I have some perspective, I can look back on my high school career as a whole and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned. Incoming and current high school students take note: You might find some advice that resonates with you.
Be open to every hashkafa (philosophy). It’s important to expose yourself to ideas and concepts that are not your own and to take what speaks to you from those ideas and bring them into your life. If I had stayed closed-minded to anything unknown to me, I would not have become the person or Jew I am today. Because I listened to others’ opinions and ideas, even when they were divergent from familiar concepts, I was able to mull over what I saw and heard and instill into my life what I thought was important.
Take pictures all the time. You’re going to regret not bringing your camera to that school trip or function when you’re looking for pictures to put into a yearbook or photo album. (I speak from personal experience as layout editor of my senior yearbook.) Seriously, take pictures, even random ones on days when nothing special is happening. You’ll be able to look back on them and reminisce over all the good times you had with your friends.
Go to friends’ houses whenever you’re invited, and invite people over. Spending time with each other out of the school setting adds so much to a friendship. A weeknight or Shabbos spent with a friend, or a group of friends, is a lot of fun and will strengthen your relationships. Even when you have a lot of work to do, go to friends’ houses anyway; you can always do assignments or study together! I made it my business not to turn down any invitations, even if it was at an inconvenient time or if I didn’t think I was in the mood. I think back on all those good times together and am so grateful that I have these memories with my friends.
Always meet deadlines. Handing in assignments late is embarrassing, and unless you ask in advance, teachers aren’t likely to give you extensions. When it comes to scholarships, competitions or college applications, it’s a choice between sending it in by the deadline and not sending it in at all. When there’s a deadline, take it seriously and even try to beat it by a few days. Your future self will thank you when you don’t have to work frantically until 11:59 p.m. to submit that application or until 3 a.m. on the day before a paper is due.
Get close with a teacher. Teachers go into education because they want to inspire youth and impart their knowledge to new generations. As a result, they are almost always happy to befriend a student. They are invaluable resources who can teach you so much outside of the classroom setting. If they teach the subject that you want to pursue as a college degree, they can set you up with important connections. I developed a close relationship with my social studies teacher from eighth grade and I am still in touch with him. He taught me how to write a research paper and really analyze historical events, which were priceless tools throughout high school. I’m so happy that I’ve kept up with him and plan on maintaining the relationship. Many of my friends developed close bonds with teachers in high school and all of them are really happy that they have these connections.
Leave a legacy. High school is four years of your life. Don’t go under the radar and sleep through it — make use of your time! Leave your mark on somebody whether it’s a friend, a younger student or a teacher. Participate in activities that will distinguish you from the crowd, like joining and heading school clubs or speaking up at school assemblies. Contribute to your school’s culture. Make sure you’re remembered and that you’re not just another cap and gown at graduation.
On my last day of classes my mother told me, “Well, this is the end of an era.” Although I rolled my eyes at her melodrama at the time, I’ve come to realize that she was right. The chapter of my life titled, “High School” has ended and the next section called “College” is beginning. Although I don’t know what will be written in this next chapter, I can’t wait to experience it.