What I Wish I’d Known

Jessica Choe ’22 shares invaluable life lessons she has learned throughout her high school years.


Pesky Library mural depicts seniors in cardinal and white gowns jumping the wall—a ceremonial graduation tradition.

Jessica Choe, Editor

“You’ll be there before you know it,” Dr. Quimby told me during the Class of 2019’s graduation. He was right. Before I knew it, I was planning for my commencement, asking my friends whether I should get a cardinal gown or a white one. I only have one more semester (and less than a hundred days) to go. Yet, it still feels extremely unreal that I’d be leaving this place I called home for the last four years in just a few months.

Looking back as a senior, nothing seems to have changed that much. I even live in the same dorm. But instead of turning in my phone to my proctors in study hall, now I’m the one who’s collecting phones from my ninth-grade girls. Instead of watching seniors walk out of the Bergman theater after morning meetings from the balcony, I now get up as soon as DQ blurts out “seniors, faculty, and staff.” It’s these small things that remind me of the subtle changes which enabled me to become who I am today. But in the back of my mind, I always wonder, would I have become a different person (for the better or for the worse) if I acted differently?

In 2019, Tianyu Fang ‘20 wrote in one of his last articles for The Governor “What I Wished I’d Known,” “…there are many things I would tell the ninth-grade me—things I wish I’d known better.” Just like Tianyu, I, too, have so many things I wish I’d known better and would’ve told the ninth-grade me. Some of them are as trivial as peach flavored Hi-Chews aren’t as good as you think, so don’t order the entire pack. But others, I truly wish I’d have known them before.

So here I am, paying homage to my mentor and friend who inspired me—but more importantly, so that you don’t make the same mistakes I made. Here are some of the things I wish I’d known—things I’d have done differently. 


You do you. Don’t compare yourself to others.

This might sound extremely cliche. But it’s true. Looking back, I was too caught up in being “as good” as someone else. I was busy trying to become this amorphous image of perfection, which was essentially a jumble of qualities and achievements I looked up to in others. But after spending grueling years trying to simulate that unrealistic image, I realized that I’d never become that, because that wasn’t me. 

Be yourself. There’s something in you that the other 7 billion people in this world don’t have. You are a unique individual, sharing different experiences than anyone else. You can never be a pioneer at the cutting edge if you are always trying to catch up with someone else. Follow your passion, and before you know it, you’d have come a long way. 

Don’t be afraid to fail.

I must admit: I was (and still am) extremely afraid of failures. I don’t want to let my friends, parents, teachers, or myself down by not getting the results I want. So I did my best to avoid situations that would lead me to failure. But I wish I’d challenged myself a bit more and enjoyed the process of learning through failures. In the end, you can’t improve by not challenging yourself. And challenge, by definition, inevitably leads to failures sometimes. I wish someone had told me that failures now are stepping stones for success later in life—success that is so much bigger and more valuable than what you can get by avoiding failures now.

Don’t be afraid to fail, but never get used to failing. Failures are there so that you can improve—not to make you stop trying at all. 

You can’t be good at everything—and you don’t have to be. 

Sure, Newton or Da Vinci might have been, but we are no Newton nor Da Vinci. This is one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned. As a ninth-grader, the naive version of myself thought I could ace at everything. Sure, I got good grades, and I seemed to do pretty well writing poems, playing the violin, and acting on stage. But I soon realized that being good at everything meant I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. 

If someone tells me that they can play the violin, the viola, the cello, the flute, and five other instruments, I think to myself: they’re probably just mediocre at all of them and good at none of them. It also means that you are passionate about none of them, because passion is the driving force that makes you do things you like. You just simply don’t have enough time to practice all of those instruments. In the end, an orchestra needs a violinist, a cellist, and a flutist—not instrumentalists who can play the violin, the cello, and the flute. 

You don’t have to commit yourself to everything you do. Just be good at one (or a few) thing(s). So use your time wisely. Do whatever you are passionate about and direct your energy into it. Be an expert in your own field, and don’t feel the pressure to be good at everything.

Take care of yourself.

I don’t simply mean this by “get a good night’s sleep”, or “eat well” kind of way. Take care of yourself when you feel like you are not doing enough or worse—when you feel like you are not enough. Don’t beat yourself up. Love yourself and know that you are loved and worthy to be loved. There are people around you who care about you even when you don’t notice it. Your parents, family, friends, teachers—surround yourself with people who make you feel loved. Also know when to burn bridges and stay away from those who hurt you. This is as important as surrounding yourself with supportive people. People who hurt you will continuously drain your energy and attention—there are a million other things you can do with those precious resources of yours. Life is too short to care about opinions of those who don’t give you the respect you deserve. 

And…Read, read, read. 

I promise you: books are the greatest teachers you can ever ask for. Foucault might be long dead, but hey, his words are still alive in the books he wrote. Why ignore this opportunity to learn directly from the best intellectuals who were to walk on the earth?

You don’t need a plane ticket to walk around the streets of Paris, nor time travel to the 1920s to experience what America was like during the Gilded Ages. All you have to do is grab a book, open up its pages, and start reading. Reading will expand your horizon and allow you to practice empathy. It will teach you that there are ideas, values, and emotions that transcend the boundaries of race, gender, place, and even time. 


You don’t have to take my advice, but if any of my words resonated with you and felt that it was already too late to make a difference in your life, also remember that it’s never late to start now. Now is the earliest you can ever get and start making changes to your actions. And you’ll be there before you know it.