A Profound Experience

Amena

At 18 years old, it’s not a huge surprise that high school has served as the most profound experience I’ve undergone, specifically my senior year. To give you a sense of the nature of this final year, my use of the phrase, “someday we’ll look back at this and laugh” has become almost instinctive. More often than not, things don’t go according to plan, and the acceptance of this sobering thought has proven itself requisite to any sense of ease or amusement I can expect to experience.

Profound Experience 1

Before the start of this year, I scoffed at the repeated claim by one wistful graduating senior after another that some of their most meaningful friendships didn’t come together until their last year of high school. Looking back, I can confidently say that they were right. I have been lucky enough to watch each of my smaller, more exclusive friend groups expand and overlap, and this process has facilitated the introduction to people I otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to, and who I now proudly label my closest friends. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by more than just a handful of compassionate, supportive, hysterical, and hardworking individuals, and I don’t expect that I’d enjoy this year nearly as much as I have without their collective presence.

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Nobody warns you that the moments you’ll never forget are the same ones that seem so meaningless while you’re living them through. The night we spent cracking up over Pictionary and promising ourselves that this would be our final round, only to find ourselves repeating that promise four rounds later; the substance and hilarity we were consistently able to cram into our 45 minute off-campus lunches; the hours of scheming that came along with every surprise birthday party we begrudgingly agreed to help plan. I think it’s hard for me to come to terms with how attached I’ve become to the friendships forged and memories made throughout the course of my high school career because I’m not an especially sensitive or emotional person. I once bumped an old man with my car in the Publix parking lot and drove away mad at HIM. Point proven.

College acceptance season illustrated the truth in Tom Haverford’s belief that, “sometimes you gotta work a little, so you can ball a lot.” An unparalleled sense of fulfillment accompanied the arrival of those thick, emblematic envelopes and eagerly-awaited emails. We’d spent the past three and a half years laboring over single-page, impersonal letters that more or less decided our fates, and that final sense of validation deemed the experience entirely worthwhile. Well, that and the jealous responses of overwhelmed and overeager underclassmen onlookers.

The phase that followed college acceptance season can most simply be equated to getting a yellow star in Mario Kart. We’re invincible, for now; ignoring the inevitable challenges ahead and instead opting to go along with our every impulse, like waiting to study for an AP Statistics midterm until the class period before, or skipping out on going to Stat altogether…for a week. I’m living that phase right now, which explains why it’s 3:42am on a Sunday night and I’m pouring my heart into a word document rather than getting enough sleep to sustain myself come the irritating buzz of my phone alarm in just a few short hours.

Profound Experience 2

I’d say senior year has served as a testament not only to our academic ambition, but also to our strength. We experienced loss, and I’m not just talking about that one basketball game against PC. The deaths of our peers to suicide or unforeseen trauma were and continue to be incredibly difficult to process and accept, but the sense of community and togetherness that follows such upsetting news is sincerely uplifting. We watched helplessly as friendships we made freshman year were extinguished entirely because self-growth deemed our personalities no longer compatible and, compared to our innocent, 14-year-old selves, nearly unrecognizable. We learned to cope, to survive, and to advance.

Somewhere in between our apprehensive first-steps inside the inarguably transformative walls of Green Hope and our impending final jaunt across the convention center stage come mid-June, we grew up. This year has instilled in me the habit of self-reflection. I’ve learned to recognize the impact of my words on both myself and others, and the importance of identifying other people’s strengths and making a conscious effort to build upon them. I’ve learned not to take anything too seriously, because the most dramatic problems are usually what lead to the funniest stories. I’ve learned to accept criticism and learn from it, rather than allowing self-confidence give rise to narcissism. I’ve learned to chase after the things I’m passionate about, and to do more than just exist. I’ve learned to take pride in the person I am as well as the person I’m becoming. I’m stuck with my peers for four years, but I’m stuck with myself forever, and I’ve learned that there’s still so much left for me to learn.

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Here’s to hoping that the best days are still ahead. And that I don’t get arrested for admitting to the time I hit an old guy with my car. In my head, it’s still his fault, but I have minimal doubts that police authorities would disagree.

Shereen

Growing up with a visually-impaired parent can affect a child’s life and development in many ways.  My father’s struggle with a hereditary degenerative optic disease eventually took away his eyesight.  This condition and the circumstances that it generated have definitely had a lasting imprint on my life.  It is fortunate, though, that such an impact has been an incredibly positive one.

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My childhood memories of my father are dominated by his great sense of humor, gentle character, and countless gestures of love and care.  I also remember his regular visits to ophthalmologists and a consistent prognosis of inevitable deterioration that would lead to blindness.  I so vividly remember him gently holding my face between his palms and slightly moving my head to the left and the right in search for the perfect angle that allowed him a clear view of how I looked.  To avoid the awkwardness of such moments, he would always mention how my features so closely resembled those of his late mother.

Dad had a way of finding a good side to everything.  He often pointed out how his poor eyesight rendered his hearing a lot stronger.  He considered my reading the paper to him every day after dinner as a bonding experience, and always complimented my enunciation and the expression in my voice.  In public places and group outings, he maintained a pleasant attitude that engaged others through lively conversation and thoughtful remarks.

Being the positive gracious person that he was, dad compensated for his limited eye sight with remarkable organization skills that enabled him to find what he needed without much trouble.  I remember bringing him items from his closet or desk drawer by following the simple directions that he provided.  His graceful acceptance of a difficult reality was often reflected in his comments and jokes.  While he always talked about how much he loved and enjoyed his work as an agricultural engineer, he used to say that his plan B in case of a career change was to become a pilot.

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My mother played an integral role in making the best out of a difficult situation.  House rules were adjusted in ways that best supported dad’s needs and guaranteed his safety and comfort.  When his weakening optic nerve called for strong lighting, curtains were always drawn in the day time and large chandeliers and strong light bulbs became characteristic of every room.  Doors were never left ajar and coffee tables were eliminated from room centers.  We even had an unspoken rule about dad’s dinner plate so that he did not need to ask many questions or receive much instruction.  Resembling a clock, there was a consistent spot for each food category; protein at ten o’clock, salad at two, carbs at five, and vegetables at seven o’clock.

Dad’s sense of hope and optimism remained strong all his life.  He took two international trips in pursuit of the latest medical research relevant to his case.  He found as much value in receiving treatment as he did in participating in medical trials to benefit others in the future.  My father passed away at the age 83 and I do not recall him ever being sad, frustrated, or bitter about any of the limitations that he regularly dealt with.  As he was leaving to the airport for one of his trips, he bumped into a door that was accidently left ajar.  He sat calmly as we attended to the wound in his forehead and kept reminding us that stress would only further delay us.

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To my father, happiness was a decision that he made, a lens through which he looked at life and what it brought his way.  Joy came from his heart and then manifested itself into the various aspects of his life as well as the lives of those around him.  What was missing from my dad’s life was dwarfed by his focus on what he had, and by his determination to enjoy what is actually present in it.  I am still moved by how my father thought of his deprived vision as an opportunity to listen intently and focus on becoming a more patient person.

My father’s wisdom and valuable life experiences taught me a lot and continue to guide me until this day.  I am inspired by him starting his dream project of a small business at the age of 65 and working on it every day until the age of 82.  I am humbled by his repeated remark, “I learn something new every passing day, and sometimes it is the young uneducated office boy that delivers my daily lesson.”  The thought of my father marinating hope for a cure until the end makes it difficult for me to give up hope or lose enthusiasm about a dream.  My father’s journey with his impairment filled me with empathy towards those who struggle with ailments, and the hereditary nature of the disease is a constant reminder for me to capitalize on what I have and enjoy it to the fullest extent.

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I love and miss you dad!

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