By: Tess Blake (Grade 12)
To the grad classes after us,
The day before I started grade 8, my older sister wrote me a letter, much like the one I am about to write you. It was in this letter where she told me all of the things I would need to know about high school. I was cleaning out my files the other day, going through old papers and what not, and came across this letter. As I unfolded the paper and began to read the faded ink of the wise words of a tenth grader, I suddenly remembered the very moment that she gave it to me, and the very moment I read it. It was August of 2015: the year of Fetty Wap’s Trap Queen, of ios 9, the iPhone 6, of Birdman, the total solar eclipse, the year of “What colour is the dress,” the year the Canadian Women’s Soccer team became Olympic medalists, of the last “Late Night with David Letterman,” the year water was found on Mars, gay marriage was legalized in the United States, and the year that I, along with 79 other grey wolves, started the crazy adventure that is high school. And although it will be challenging to one up (and I quote) “Emma Blake’s incredible high school wisdom that you are going to want to keep with you forever because it’s just that good,” I will comment on one thing she said: “It’s going to pass fast. Cherish every moment.”
As a 13 year old obsessed with ‘SremmLife,’ my bright pink braces and rapping along to Drake’s “Energy” as I complained about the thought of writing 200 words for English 8’s study of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” this sentiment, though appreciated, felt meaningless. And I won’t lie, there were days of high school that made me question my sister’s words; weeks that felt like months, and moments that I didn’t exactly want to cherish.
But as I write this now, an 18 year old who no longer goes to the orthodontist every month to change the colour of her braces, who owns an iPhone 11 downloaded with ios 14 software and who has just finished writing a 60-page thesis paper not for English 8 but for Global Studies 12, I realize that the days of hot pink braces, the iPhone 6, and of a two-chunk paragraph about Christopher Sly, do not in fact feel as distant as 5 years ago. And even more details come back when someone in the glassroom picks up one of the old yearbooks lying around and says “remember when…” or “look how little so-and-so looked!” or “look at how much hair Mr. Anthony had!” I would read about the grad classes before us, would look at their baby pictures and graduation pictures. I would read the things they wrote about the classes they took, trips they went on, teachers they were inspired by, and friends they made. And I would think about who they were now, where they were, what they were doing, what direction life had pulled them in.
Often in their write-ups, I would see something telling me how fast high school goes by, the ones on the cringier side comparing it to “the blink of an eye,” which only made me roll mine. I didn’t believe them. 5 years seems like a long time. And in the moment, it is. I remember just wanting to get to 3:30pm on a Friday, wanting to get past this week of tests, powerpoint presentations, 5:30am starts, and days with no lunch breaks. But now, as I sit in my house, zooming in and out of virtual classrooms, nostalgia setting in as I am only weeks away from graduation, I am realizing that it was those very weeks, those early mornings, those “regular days,” that made my 5 years so special. What I would give right now to have another one of those “regular days.”
I’ve been contemplating what to write about in this letter, what last thing I want to say as a student at West Point Grey, what last thing I want to include in my last issue of the Wolfington Post as a “scholar.” I thought about giving advice, what advice to give, or even if I needed to give advice. After all, we’re surrounded by it all the time; people and social media and even our own head telling us what to do, what not to do, what we did wrong, what we could have done right. So I am not going to tell you to “cherish the moment,” because often, it is only after that moment has passed that we realize it was worth being cherished. And if you don’t understand that yet, you will in time. You will by the end of grade 12. Take myself as an example. Rather than boring you with hindsight wisdom or advice you have heard a thousand times over, I would instead like to tell you a story – not about myself, or about us as the grad class of 2020, but about you. Yes, you reading this. You may know me well, you may know me a little, or you may not know me at all. But this is not about me. When you read this, I may just be about to graduate, or perhaps, I will have graduated a long time ago. You may have seen me around, or you may have no clue as to who I am, simply another face in a yearbook that you will flip through when it is your turn to occupy the glassroom, when it is your time to “remember when.” I do not know what grade you are in, what exactly you are going through right now, why you are even reading this letter, or what you are hoping to gain by reading it, but just know that wherever you are, I along with the 79 other grads of 2020, have been there. All the grads since 1997 have. And I cannot wait for you to go through what all of us have gone through, all of the highs and lows included.
I am so excited for you to be 3 feet tall, 4 years old, and 5 sizes too small for your WPGA blazer that you will wear as a Junior Kindergarten student, meeting other 4 year olds who you will grow with and alongside and who will grow to become some of your best friends, friends you will graduate next to 14 years later. You will walk the halls of the junior school, growing day by day, week by week, and year by year, eventually making your way from the bottom floor to the top, experiencing all that comes with middle school. And then you will leave that building behind, you will “graduate” and walk a little farther up the hill from P.E. because now, you will belong to the high school. And at first, you will be nervous. We all were. You will think “5 years is a long time,” and it may feel like that at times. But other times, you will look back at the bottom of the hill, at the building below you and you will “remember when”: the fairytale ball, reading buddies, art class, sports day, your grade 2 homeroom teacher, your grade 6 basketball team, your swim meets, winter concerts, math classes, science projects, field trips, camping trips. And you will think “5 years is a long time.” You will walk the halls as a grade 8, wondering if and how you will ever grow to be as tall as the seniors who walk the halls beside you. You will have your first year of high school exams, of being in the musical ensemble, of student council, Evan’s Lake, buddy breakfast with the “scary” seniors, Ms. Wittman’s Math class and Ms. Haider’s English class. You will meet the kind spirit of Mr. Parker, the considerate nature of Mr. Pike, and will look forward to walking into school everyday greeted with a smile from Ms. Thompson. You will sit through your first Chan Centre ceremony, watching the grads, many stumbling in their high heels, as they walk down the aisles of the Chan Centre and up onto the stage, sitting in rows looking out at their families, loved ones, and lifelong friends. You will think to yourself how “5 years is a long time,” how it will be a while before you yourself sit up there, a few inches taller and a few years wiser.
Grade 9 will roll around and you won’t be the youngest ones anymore, but you will still think to yourself “4 years is a long time.” You will go to Manning Park, slide down hills as you attempt to cross-country ski but really just end up wiping out and crashing into the person in front of you. You will camp in the snow, watch the stars with your friends, some of whom you have known since you were 3 feet tall, 4 years old, and 5 sizes still too small for your xxxxs WPGA blazer. You will sit through science classes with Ms. Breslin, Mandarin with Mr. Lei, social studies with Bendl, assemblies with Mr. Huygens, join junior teams as opposed to bantam teams, debate teams, STEM groups, and go to Model UN conferences. You will walk the halls still wondering how you will ever grow to become the size of the seniors, their varsity jackets, grad cardigans, and all. Once again you will sit through a Chan Centre ceremony, and head into grade 10, realizing that you only have 3 years left when it was only yesterday that it seemed like 5 years remained.
You will grow in height, in maturity, into yourself, and out of parts of yourself that made up who you once were. You will get lost, you will fall apart, but you will then realize that you needed to lose your way to find an even better path; that you needed to break apart in order to rebuild yourself and put yourself back together even better than before. You will have long days, good days, bad days, great days. You will learn quadratic equations from Mr. Ito, physics formulas from YML, and scientific formulas from Butler when he’s not busy saving lives or making dad jokes. But not everything will come with a formula, where you can plug in numbers given to you and where other numbers are spit out, perfectly rounded and easily understood. Sometimes, you will be given information, be put in circumstances, and go through experiences where no formula or equation will help you to solve what it is you’re going through. Sometimes, you will have to look inward, live through trial and error as opposed to the safety of a textbook. Not everything you go through will make sense at the time, just like when you read Shakespeare and have no idea until you read through Spark Notes and finally understand that “thou” just means “you” (yes, I did not know that). Embrace the confusion. Don’t shy away from it.
Not every problem you face will be linear; not every story you live through during your time at WPGA will end the way you wanted it to or the way you always imagined it would. Just ask the grads of 2020. You will learn that marks are only numbers and that character is more important, that at the end of the day it is the people in your life who matter the most. You will grind through grade 11, not believing the number of essays you write or the length of your to-do list. Procrastination will no longer just be a vocabulary word but will become an all too familiar habit. You will notice that you are almost if not the same height of the grade 12s and will venture to places like the Dominican Republic, having one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life. You will get to know the legend that is Lu, the safe space that is Lu’s Lab, the sacred space that is the glassroom, the excitement of your last day of school in grade 11 and the nostalgia that will hit you on your first day of grade 12.
Ah, and then all of a sudden you will realize you only have 1 year left. 1 year of that amazing view, of Bean and Rice Burger and Sun Sushi, of early choir practices, of the inspiring words of Mr. Bohnen, of the in-depth scientific explanations and much appreciated patience of Mr. Barnum, of hectic lunch meetings, and of late night film shoots with Mac, days before the term end. You will have 1 year left of APs and soccer seasons and VYMUN’s and visits with Ms. Lee and unproductive spares and you will begin to replace firsts with lasts. Last photo day, last cross-country season with Dawson & Sensei, last term 1 assembly, last term 2 assembly, last Arts Council meeting, last “love love kiss kiss” from Mrs. Rosen, and all of a sudden, you will wake up and it will be your last day of high school. And you will think of who you were 5 years ago, before you grew in both inches and wisdom. And you will look at those younger than you, as I am now, and will be so desperate to tell them to “cherish the moment,” but you know they won’t hear you, just as you won’t hear me if I were to tell you that now. Because it is only when a moment has passed that we truly realize how special it was.
14 years have passed for me. And three weeks from now, I will be graduating, on the very hill that I played on in junior kindergarten and alongside many of the same people with whom I played. And I will look at the 4 year olds in junior kindergarten, the grad class of 2034, and I won’t feel nostalgic, or sad, or as though my graduation is a goodbye to a home I have known since I was 4. Instead, I will be excited for them, for you, for all that is to come for all of the grad classes after us. Growing up on this hill and growing up alongside the 79 other grads of 2020 has been a privilege, a privilege I am honoured to have had and a privilege I am excited to share with others. And although I won’t tell you to “cherish the moment” because that is something you only learn through experience, that doesn’t mean I hope you don’t. Cherish it all. Stop counting down the years and start making the years count. Let it all happen. Because before you know it, it will be three weeks before your graduation. And you will be thinking about the grad classes that will come after you.
Go forth with confidence.