RAISING AWARENESS: How I learned to love learning at Jefferson


This article was originally published in the February 2017 print issue of tjTODAY. Design and illustration by Bayliss Wagner.

Bayliss Wagner, Team Leader

I’ve found education is like driving a car.

After a while, you can start to view it as nothing but a way to get to a destination. Whenever you start a quarter, it’s “I just have to make it through for a few months.” That turns into “I just have to survive TJ,” and your destination is Harvard. Maybe your parents even decided that for you the moment you got into TJ.

You notice the shiny Porsche on your left accelerating towards that same destination. Soon, every fast car makes you more impatient about arriving at your future. Why not speed to keep up? They’re doing it too, right? Your fuel tank goes lower and lower as you exhaust your engine, depriving yourself of sleep, and those speed limits you defied can even start to get you ticketed as a cheater. The worst part is that, in comparing yourself to every other car and
listening to everyone who tells you to drive faster, you’ve stopped loving the quirks of your own car. The journey is lonely and featureless, devoid of the joy you felt when you first learned to drive.

My car’s outdated, forest green exterior earned it the name Mr. Green. It’s 27 years old, the A/C doesn’t work, the left turn signal jumps out of its compartment every few months, and the radio only works if I turn it on at a stop light. So during my first two years at TJ, I felt ashamed of my car. It didn’t run as fast as my peers’ did. It ran out of gas much faster. And man, did it look different from theirs. No one else had a car that color. As I failed some of the first tests in my life, I started to wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why aren’t I smart enough?” It seemed like they were all driving brand-new BMWs.

Mr. Green on Skyline Drive. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service. Design by Bayliss Wagner.

But junior year, I gave up looking at their cars. I joined the newspaper, devoted more of my time to my favorite classes instead of despairing over a math or physics grade, and stopped staying home on Saturday nights to study alone. In the process, my grades actually improved. And I felt so much better about my talents, which happened to be a bit different than those of my peers. Sure, my car broke down once or twice that year. But the more time I spent fixing it, the more I learned to love my car and the view by the side of the road.

Imagine a trip down Skyline Drive with your friends, teachers and classmates. You have time to sing to your favorite songs on the radio with them, to eat some snacks, and to have captivating discussions. Every clearing reveals a new, open field of opportunity, each one more exciting than the next. Because you aren’t worried about your destination, you have time to appreciate fall for its oaks, maples and birch trees of every color, winter for its puffy, carefree snow, and spring for the delicate pink and white blossoms over farmlands of green. You start to lose track of the other cars on the road because you’re so engaged in your own journey. You still have to know when to accelerate on a steep slope and when to coast down a decline, but you aren’t busy gritting your teeth and challenging other cars.

Remember that in middle school, you loved learning and school felt like that exciting trip on Skyline Drive or to anywhere else you want to go. And high school—yes, even TJ—can feel like that, too. You still have to work hard, but you can’t let one narrow definition of success, one destination, define every moment of the trip. When you feel your tank running low, be it from stress or exhaustion, anxiety or depression, you take the time to refill it. When you see a car with its hazards blinking on the side of the road, you pull over to help jump-start it. Because you don’t feel like you need to speed towards Harvard, you have more time to enjoy the view, help out your peers, and to appreciate your car’s quirks.

And in doing that, you’ll find that you love learning and you love yourself more. You may even end up exactly where you were meant to go. I promise you’re equipped for that trip already. Whether your parents, teachers or peers appreciate your car or not, you’re stuck with it. So sit back and enjoy the ride, but don’t take the curves too fast. Before you know it, that forest green may become your new favorite color.