What I Wish I’d Known


Rebecca Stratton

Class of 2020 at Brantwood Camp in Greenfield, New Hampshire.

Tianyu Fang, Senior Editor

It felt somewhat surreal to find myself in the senior class, spending Unity Days at Brantwood Camp in Greenfield, New Hampshire. There, I received a letter—one written by the freshman Tianyu, addressed to my 18-year-old self.

“To Tianyu Fang, senior in 2019,” the envelope read, followed by a line of clarification in parenthesis: “If he hasn’t dropped out.”

 Fortunately, I haven’t. My memory was brought back to the back of the dining hall, where the letter was written three years ago; fresh off the boat, he sounded disoriented and rattled. There were bugs in his Farmhouse room, he said. Everything was new to him. He couldn’t remember anyone’s name, didn’t dare talk to new people, and struggled with the newly adopted language—although his roommate James Rogus “seemed like a nice guy.”

 Freshman year now feels distant, and I was somewhat embarrassed by the letter I had written. Nevertheless, it also made me conscious of how much this community has changed who I am over the past three years.

 Computer scientist and essayist Paul Graham wrote, in 2005, a speech to high schoolers. He never got to actually give the talk, but he shared his script as a blog post, titled “What You’ll Wish You’d Known.” I came across the article during my sophomore year, and it’s inspired me ever since.

 I am no successful entrepreneur like Graham is, but there are many things I would tell the ninth-grade me—things I wish I’d known better. And here, I’d like to share some of them with you.

 Challenge yourself

 Classes that you want to drop out of, projects that seem impossible, and nightly reading assignments. You may be intimidated by them—we all are. But more often than not, things look more difficult than they actually are. When most people meet these challenges, they take a step back into their comfort zones, but you shouldn’t. Instead, you should challenge yourself to do hard things and push those boundaries.

 Dropping an AP history class that a friend says is hard might save you hours of extra work each week, but you would also miss the chance to know that you, too, can write a 20-page, A-range history research paper. If you want to make progress and know what you’re capable of, challenges are worth taking.

 Take initiatives, but not in everything

 The Academy offers plenty of opportunities on campus. They take different shapes and forms—sometimes it’s a class, an afternoon activity, or a sport, but it can also be a proctorship position, a peer tutor shift, or a class project.

 Opportunities are out there, but they aren’t always delivered into your hands: It’s often up to you to explore, prepare for, and reach for them.

 But when there are too many options, opportunities can be overwhelming. That means do not sign up for a class that you don’t like because your friends are taking it. But rather, think about what is meaningful to you, who you want to be, and what skills you want to build or improve.  

 Acknowledge our “bubbles”

 Going to a boarding school is like living in a bubble. Unfortunately, that’s not the only bubble we are trapped inside of. Massachusetts is a bubble. Our socioeconomic classes are bubbles, and so is this nation.

 We study economics. We play tennis. We own smartphones and laptops. We travel to Florida during Thanksgiving break. But hey, this isn’t the real world. Being able to study here means we are among the very privileged few—the opportunities and resources we have access to are unimaginable for most of our peers in other parts of the world.

 It’s important to feel grateful for the privileges that we enjoy. But with privilege comes responsibility: We should be conscious of our bubbles and be curious about what’s outside them. There are books, magazines, and the internet that will help you explore. There are people at the Academy who come from backgrounds different from yours. Be inquisitive and humble.

 Know what’s important—including sleeping well

 Your experience at the Academy can be overwhelming at times—for instance, when there’s an away game or three tests on a Wednesday. It’s important to know your priorities.

 Always look a few days ahead when it comes to assignments and try to get your work done during free blocks in the day. If it’s 12 o’clock, you’ve worked hard all day, and feel you’ll have to stay up for another hour for an assignment, email your teacher with an explanation and go to bed. (During my three years here, there has not been a single night when I had to study past midnight.) Having a good night’s sleep is always better than struggling to keep yourself awake on the second day, having handed in a sloppily finished worksheet.

 Looking back, there are so many things I would have done differently. Perhaps the most important advice I would tell myself is to think bigger. “How do I get into a good college” or “how can I get a decent grade on this test” are important questions, but they hold very little value in the grand scheme of things. Instead, ask: What do I enjoy? Where do I see myself ten years from now? In what ways can I contribute to the society that others can’t? Start from these macroscopic, critical questions. While you don’t have to answer them immediately, you should keep looking for answers.