Dear Freshman Ava,
You have been dreaming about high school since sixth grade when you learned about the freedom of an open campus and how much your class size would grow. At the end of seventh grade, you watched with awe as your eighth-grade peers leapt and screamed incredulously, “We’re going to high school!” And when you found yourself in their shoes, you marched through the doors of the Davenport Street campus with sparkles in your eyes. High school is, to you, a chance to finally experience the milestone moments of those 2000s Disney Channel movies. High school holds within it the possibility of a big world beyond the small LMS doors you grew up in.
You ask hopefully, “Is it true you see people you don’t recognize every single day?” Soon, you won’t stop talking about how, in the first week of classes, you got lost in the stairwells—which, in your eyes, is proof that you are finally in the big world you have always dreamed of joining. It’s funny because now, in light of the college process, I’ve realized our high school is actually relatively small. Now, I know the nooks and crannies of this building like the back of my hand. And each space—from a shower in the girls’ locker room (where you will cry before and after your Matilda: The Musical audition) to that yellow study room with the big window—holds so many memories.
As a freshman, I know everything is new and thrilling. I know you’ve joined practically every club GDS has to offer. You love your peers and teachers. The one thing you struggle with is loving yourself.
Even now, I’m not sure where that insecurity stems from. But let me tell you, Ava—if there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s how you won’t let that self-doubt stop you from trying everything. To quote Maya Passman, a current junior at Barnard College of Columbia University (where you will go in four years!), “Everyone says you are meant to be where you end up, and I agree, but would add one thing–you will make the place you end up being where you are meant to be.” And, freshman Ava, writing to you as your future senior self, I can tell you we did that at GDS.
Your imposter syndrome won’t immediately go away, but the most important high school lesson you will learn is this: True self-confidence does not mean you don’t have doubts, fears or insecurities. It means you have the courage to plow forward in spite of them. I promise you there will be a day in your second semester of twelfth grade when you will realize that you did not just survive high school; you savored it.
Keep facing your fears and putting yourself out there, whether socially or academically. Raise your hand in class. Don’t be afraid to meet with teachers when you need help. Stay on top of your emails and advocate for yourself. Keep on painting—I know those all-nighters suck, but you will create some pretty cool work, even in your state of sleepless delirium. Sign up for that Shakespeare competition. Join cross-country—I know you think you hate running, but trust me. Do the fall shows, the one-acts and the musicals. And join Fata.
And talk to your peers—because, in four years, when you are perched at the edge of graduation, you will realize just how much you value each and every person in your grade and in your school, no matter how well you know them.
It’s true that we are all the main characters of our lives, and that everyone else is part of a larger cast. I didn’t expect to be so sad when I realized that everyone in my grade is about to disperse and carve their own path in life. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from doing theater at GDS, it’s how important each and every member of the company, especially the ensemble, is to bring the show to life. And in the context of senior year, I am beginning to understand the class of 2023 as one giant cast, with each individual bringing a different quality that enriches our glorious production.
I can’t write you this letter without mentioning the biggest plot twist of our high school show, which is (*spoiler alert*) the COVID pandemic of 2020. But you will breathe a sigh of relief when I tell you how lucky we’ve been to experience a relatively normal post-COVID senior year.
Of course, the class of 2023 managed to add our own signature twist to many of those events—from collectively deciding we’d rather sleep in instead of partaking in a “senior sunrise,” to pranking just about everyone into thinking our senior prank was a day earlier than it actually was. And I can’t go without mentioning that our senior run-in, “23 Under the Sea,” was, according to head of school Russell Shaw, one of the best in GDS history. It’s clear we’re a talented ensemble cast. And if I had to rewind and watch our high school career from the beginning, I’d give us a standing ovation.
As for you, freshman Ava, I’ll leave you with this advice: Know that high school really is what you make of it—and you will have a lot to be proud of by the end. As for present me, while they say the sequel is always worse than the first film, I think we have a lot to look forward to in our future. And so will the class of 2023.