The change from childhood to adulthood and forward is a definite, natural process that seems invariable. Children cannot wait to become older, because to them, age brings new experiences, privileges, and opportunities. Young adults view each year with excitement. Elders look back on their many years and consider them a source of wisdom. Aging is an innate process that humans cannot conquer; no matter how much plastic surgery or unnatural procedures a person undergoes, her age continues to creep forward. Schools are a focal point of such a change: students grow from tiny kindergarteners to confused sixth graders undergoing the tough change of puberty; in high school, growth is accelerated as ninth graders soon become twelfth graders, bordering on the cliff that is childhood over the sea of adulthood. Each year becomes a statement in itself—students don’t notice the changes in themselves or their environments until those changes have already happened. The four years of high school, and the changes that take place each year, are often taken for granted. They seem like pillars of education: untouchable, unmovable, and unbreakable. But what would happen if that aging process were extended? What would change if high school became six years by choice, instead of the usual four?
I had a relatively ordinary childhood. My parents were older than their comrades and engaged businesspeople that delighted in finally having a child. I entered kindergarten clutching my favorite book to my chest: my mother had read it to me so many times that I knew the words by heart, but I craved the gift of reading that school would bring. By the time I reached second grade, my teachers realized that I was having difficulty restraining myself at my classmates’ level; I watched the clock tick slowly and drew all over my notebooks. That year, I was accelerated two years ahead of my peers to fourth grade. To many parents, each school year is bittersweet. Their child is growing older, learning, progressing—every day is one closer to adulthood. None of that mattered to me, an eager eight year old with a big heart and an open mind. But things changed, as all ideas do, and by the time I entered my second year of high school I was dreaming of a different life.
Life is difficult when one is two years younger and a foot shorter than one’s peers. I dealt with questions about my age and accelerated situation nearly every day, survived twelfth graders’ taunts in the hallway, and managed to prove myself against my peers academically. Competing against sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen year old athletes is practically impossible as a tiny thirteen year old, and my social experiences became part of the past as my classmates viewed me as a “genius” or a “wonder” but never wanted to become something I desired so desperately—a friend.
Less than a year later, I found myself in ninth grade again at an all-girls, private school in a big city. My grade had only 57 girls in it, and suddenly, I was part of a funny, amazing group of girls; some of them knew my unique past and others didn’t know the details, but they were all the same in that none of it seemed to matter. For me, my world had completely shifted. My social experiences were perfect; I had joined the varsity badminton team and finally satisfied my competitive athletic side. Academically, I desperately missed the challenge my classes had brought and found that a part of my heart was gaping empty because my love of learning had been denied. Was it too irrational to want a chance to experience the best of both worlds? I never wanted to sacrifice my academics for my friends, but I found myself at a crossroads and needed to make a choice.
The next September, I was back at my all-girls school for junior year. The beginning of junior year was a confusing and heart-wrenching introspective period; I had switched between ninth and tenth grade for four solid years and the continuation of high school—and aging—seemed like a foreign concept. Vacillating between the first two years of high school had given me the false impression that I was stuck in a dream sequence, never getting any older or progressing through my life path. I was a junior in my penultimate year of high school, but I still felt like that nervous freshman girl walking in to her first day of school. The girls I had admired as a ninth grader were gone—they had graduated and moved on to the rest of their life—and suddenly, I found myself in an unwanted position as a leader for underclassmen to respect.
At sixteen, I have been in high school for five years. That was my choice: I was neither held back nor told not to progress. It’s been my unique path through high school that defines me as a person and as an individual. I’ve experienced both the top academic classes and the best friends anyone could have. It’s been a question of identity and self-reflection for me as I speed, despite my best efforts, toward a departure from the one institution that has claimed the majority of my conscious years.
Everyone, at one point or another, has to accept that they are growing older. My friends have climbed from the ninth grade world of lip balm to the eleventh grade version of eye shadow. Pop-icon Taylor Swift has moved from her teenage wardrobe of cowboy boots and her trademark curly hair to tighter clothing and a trendier, sleeker hairstyle. The ideas and landmarks that have defined her have changed, just as they have changed for my personal friends. I alone seem to be left in this limbo, holding on to the ideal of learning and appeal of challenge that defined me as a thirteen-year old tenth grader, and refusing to let anything go for fear of my own dive into the sea of adulthood. My age and grade are the same as those of my peers; now, it is a question of mental readiness and inner courage to make that final push back into the progression of my life journey. My high school experience has been different from most, but the principles and mores I learned during these past five years will stay with me forever and, even if some other ideas do change, will remain as a constant, driving force in my spirit.
Sara Sakowitz, Age 16, Grade 11, The Brearley School, Silver Key