To Everyone Who Thinks They’re Going Too Slow

Felix Kalvesmaki, Commentary editor

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To everyone who thinks they’re going too slow: you’re not.

More specifically, to every teenager who thinks they’re going too slow: you’re not. Your parents may say so, and I know you’ve been told to listen to them, but they aren’t the voice of God, nor the voice of reason. Only you can determine what’s best for your future.

There’s a lot of pressure on adolescents to make our lives before they’ve truly begun. We’re told to decide which track to put ourselves on in high school, in order to decide which track to put ourselves on in university, in order to decide which track to put ourselves on for the rest of our lives. I think the saying goes something along the lines of, “We’re born, we work, we die.” And to an extent, part of me nearly thrives in that pessimism, almost relishing in the safety of a cyclical, cynical existence. I don’t think I’m necessarily indulging the notion and living in nihilism, but there’s a sense of security in the thought that no matter what we do, we’ll all end up six feet under.

But the point is, we’re instructed to create ourselves before we know who we are. Not even pushed, but shoved, coerced and raised into the belief that we always have to work faster than the student next to us. Not just in the literal sense, but in the metaphorical one of never being able to catch a break.

Freshman year is important because it’s your first year of high school, and if you manage to screw it up, it’s already looking bleak. Sophomore year is important because it’s your last chance to really get yourself together before admissions boards are breathing down your neck, and you won’t be able to clean up your act in the coming term. Junior year is important because that’s what colleges will look at, and if there’s a single flaw, not only will you not get into the school of your dreams—you just won’t get in anywhere at all. And senior year is important, because even if you managed to twist and hurl yourself through the Olympic Games that we call our last years of public education, it’s not over yet, and colleges can throw you out at any time.

And listen, there’s a valid point behind each of those statements. It’s inconceivably sour to tell students their grades don’t matter, especially if they’re ambitious enough to work hard, to get an A. But the problem arises when you don’t give yourself room to breathe. And if there are any parents reading, it’s when you don’t give your kid room to breathe. There’s a difference between encouragement and toxicity. Supporting your kid’s interests and allowing them to spend their free time out of SAT prep courses and exploring their passion for music, for photography, for robotics is crucial to creating a well-rounded individual. Colleges, by the way, look for those now. They want students with 4.0 GPAs. But they also want a passion for something.

There’s a distinction that we need to understand. Being an intelligent citizen with potential waiting to be tapped, and breaking an eager mind into doing nothing but cracking books and sharpening pencils, are two incredibly different things. Especially in the generation of the suburban tendency to turn kids into the latter. In order to create people that are productive members of society, as opposed to just productive students, everyone in the educational process needs to grasp this. That means parents, students, teachers and administrators.

However, this isn’t entirely the fault of poor parenting. With shrinking Ivy League acceptance rates, and the looming ideology of an ever-thinning job market, it’s only logical and moral to want to set your child up for the best, and make sure they know everything they might need to get into the school of their dreams. You want to make sure your child has the life they want, and you want to make sure they’re safe in the uncertain future ahead of us 10, 20 or 30 years down the line. However, what needs to be considered, is that by “setting your child up for the best,” you aren’t putting unnecessary stress or anxiety onto them. The school of their dreams may not be the school you want them to go to. And the same goes for the life and career they may want.

To parents and students: there’s a difference between going too slow and taking a second for self-care.

I’m probably going too slow, to be frank. As I’m writing this, I’m failing an AP class. It’s in the high 60s, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s a failing grade nonetheless. And being in my junior year, that isn’t great. It’s definitely reparable, but it’s not great. Just so you understand the narrator’s nuance, I’m one of the kids that’s going too slow.

However, you, the student with NYU or Berkeley pennants on your wall, bearing Yale navy blue and Harvard’s crimson red throughout your dresser drawers and visiting the Mizzou table at the school’s college fair every year, are not going too slow. Not at all.

There’s a lot to worry about right now, depending on your political persuasion, depending on your financial situation, depending on your, well, worldview. However, the student with straight A’s, hell, even down to the low B’s, and ambition to make the world a better place, is going to get into college. It may not be the one you want the first time, but sometimes, things don’t work out like we want them to. That’s what your parents are probably so insistent on telling you, anyway.

So just remember that that saying goes both ways. What disappoints your parents may make you happy, and as long as you’re leading yourself into a secure future, that’s fine. Go to the college your parents wouldn’t recommend. Major in the study they’d cringe to hear you go for. Learn a new skill. Painting, writing poetry, playing guitar, practicing quantum physics, the choice is yours. Just make sure you aren’t a cookie-cutter of parental expectations, and make sure you give yourself a second to slow down.

Because I guarantee you, you aren’t going too slow. You’re going at your own pace.

And that’s completely okay.


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