Academic Intentions: Looking Back


Graphic by Carolyn Chen ’12

Victor Hollenberg
Class of 2010

Graphic by Carolyn Chen '12

Accepting failure is never easy.

From a young age, we are taught— both by our society and by our peers— to strive for success to the detriment of everything else that matters. Messing up simply isn’t an option.

That’s the culture I bought into from my very first day in the Westport Public Schools nearly 13 years ago. Getting a C on my first high school English paper— or in my AP Calculus class this past December, for that matter— didn’t help me feel any more certain about my future.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at Staples, it’s that life tends to throw obstacles in the way of our search for fulfillment. It’s taken me four years to realize how fortunate I am to have had those trials, because I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without them.

Interning at Bedford Middle School reminds me of how determined I was to follow the life path I had laid out for myself when I was 13.

Speaking with one girl who already knew she wanted to go to Yale and major in graphic design (which isn’t an undergraduate program there, in case you were wondering,) I saw some of my own desires at that age reflected in her. I told her that life wasn’t so simple— but in retrospect, she probably didn’t believe me. Disappointment is something that one has to experience to understand.

I thought I could become a Republican senator from Connecticut. Nothing else would do.

I thought I would go to Yale. Nowhere else would suffice.

I had my entire life planned out ahead of time by the day I enrolled at Staples.

Little did I know that I was in for a rude surprise.

I didn’t get straight A’s— and gone, I thought, was my chance at getting into any college, let alone one I would have wanted to attend. I started questioning my political beliefs— and gone, I thought, was my shot at politics.

Freshman year left me shaken, but not devastated.

The more I reflected upon what had happened to me, the more I realized it simply had to.

Of course I was a Democrat. Of course I couldn’t get an A in math. My self-perceived failures— which today seem laughable— began to help me redefine who I am.

I will forever be grateful to Staples for teaching me that failure is a good thing. It’s the teachers who push students, the coaches who demand the best from their players, the advisers who ask for the best-quality work, that truly make this school the best place I can ever have come of age.

As I spent more time at Staples, the challenges— and the failures—grew more numerous. Maybe it was learning that my writing wasn’t quite PhD-caliber in US History or coming to grips with my inability to fit 48 hours of activities into the 24 hours in a day.

Specifics aside—and I could go on and on with examples—high school gradually became more of a reality check than anything. I’m not totally sure what direction I’m headed in anymore. My life isn’t what I thought it would be today, but in all honesty, I can’t see it having turned out any other way. I might not have fulfilled all my dreams, but I’ve created new ones as I’ve gone.

To those kids (and adults) who may be feeling that they’re headed in the wrong direction: the road you take may end up being the one you really wanted after all. We end up completing our paths regardless of the obstacles placed in our way.

That’s the beauty of life.