As the reality of being a high school graduate is slowly coming together in my mind, I’ve realised that I have a lot to thank my school for.
In primary school, I was one of the shyest people in my grade. I would hang around with the people I called friends like sand after a trip to the beach, and the words “Mary” and “meeting new people” would rarely be spoken in the same sentence, unless there was a “definitely doesn’t like” somewhere in the middle. So it would be safe to say that taking the leap into high school was one of the scariest experiences for eleven year-old me. The first people who even showed a slight interest in me were the ones I clung to, and perhaps it was this which what drove them away.
In another effort to not be without friends, among the many clubs I joined that first year was the choir, and I discovered that every year the Music Department would hold a music camp. I went on said camp, and on the second night they held a talent show, which was open to anyone. In an uncharacteristic twist, I decided to take this opportunity to do something a bit different, as the only thing I had ever done at these things was play the violin.
As you can hopefully understand, I was terrified at the thought of getting onstage and performing. I hesitantly voiced my intentions to some people who had invited me into their room, and they immediately egged me on. So I retreated to my own room and quickly made up a fairly simple routine to a song I had heard on the radio once and bought on a whim.
That night, as it was nearing my turn, my legs began to shake, and my low self esteem whispered the threat of inevitable laughter into my ear. But on the first day of school I had made a promise to myself that this time, it would be different. Iwould be different. It was an impossible promise, I thought. But a promise all the same.
I got on stage. I can still feel the intense heat of the stage lights and the silent anticipation as I crouched down, waiting for the first line of my chosen songto play.
Then it began.
The hall was silent for the first thirty seconds so I was beginning to have some doubts, then slowly people began to kindly clap to the beat in the off-beat way all crowds do when the clapping exceeds the volume of the music. My heart fluttered at this unexpected applause. I took a chance and did an improvised cartwheel in the middle of the song where there was only instrumental. I later found out from a recording someone (my now best friend) took that I failed miserably, yet the audience clapped and cheered anyway. Then the most amazing thing happened:
They began to cheer my name.
I remember beaming - actually beaming - as I heard them chant. I couldn’t stop the smile from showing on my face for the rest of the song - then the rest of the night. When I finished, people were cheering so loudly, and some people even stood up.
My heart soared. My head was so muddled with excitement that when I was asked how I came up with the dance I blurted out, “I copied it from TV”. My actual answer was going to be a little more detailed with some backstory of how I would imagine myself as these confident dancers and try to reenact what I saw on the screen.
It was that very moment where I could pin-point everything changing for me. Fast-forward five years into the future, and I am a completely different person. I spontaneously volunteer to help out, I’m raising my hand to get up in front of people and do things, I am unafraid to be in the spotlight, and the cohort I have grown up with were the ones to help me along that journey.
If you told past me what I am like now, I’d most likely tell you you were lying (or at least vigorously shake my head in refusal). I would think that current me was a vision in some farfetched dream, or something that existed purely in my imagination. But that night I became my alternate self, and it was all thanks to my high school community.
I have now learnt that coming out of your shell is one of the best things you can do. In fact, if not for that choice I would’ve been a completely different person. I could’ve just been background noise, forever spending my high school days in the library, reading book after book while sneaking in my lunch to avoid the shame of sitting by myself.
I guess all I can say is: take the plunge into the deep end. Be crazy. Embarrass yourself. Stand up and try, because it’s always better to try and say you did, than say you wish you could have. Don’t be afraid to be significant, because then you will have so many regrets, and the lost opportunities will haunt you forever.
Today, I browsed my college magazine with a heavy heart, and I slowly realised I would never see them again. I would never again see the people I had grown so close to, never again see those who had been so kind and so encouraging to me, and I hope that I had done the same to them. There are only a handful of words I can leave them with now, and I wish them from the bottom of my heart: