What I wish I knew on the first day of ninth grade

Rohan Bhatia

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When I first stepped into Olshan lobby in the fall of my freshman year, I was daunted by a Latin phrase that I believed I could very well translate. Magna est veritas et prævalet. It in fact took me several minutes longer than I would have liked to decipher the meaning of this phrase, but I still could not quite understand why the school would invest in such a regal portrayal of those words. Though I agree with the phrase, my personal choice for our school’s motto is less eloquent. For me, our school’s motto is, “We teach you how to think.” It is lame, boring, and I still cannot translate it into Latin after a good minute of trying. However, every faculty member on campus devotes all of their time to teaching students how to think. I believe their mission is to teach us how to use our formal education as a tool to improve the world that we live in.

Whenever teachers preach this mantra, I always imagined that it meant that we were to expand our knowledge in and out of the classroom. We are destined to be the next generation of great engineers, scientists, poets, writers, historians, and artists. Many, if not most, of you incoming freshmen probably feel that way. However, after three years of stressing out on late nights about my A period test that I still had not studied for, I understand what one of the greatest writers of our generation, David Foster-Wallace, spoke about in his “This Is Water” speech. He said, “Learning how to think is really learning how to become conscious and aware enough to choose what to pay attention to and what to gather meaning from.”

When I first arrived at Horace Mann, I truly believed that the world revolved around me. Coming from a smaller private school in the heart of Manhattan, I had not encountered this level of intellectual diversity. Most days, I would spend my energy trying to one up the student next to me in the classroom or devise a superior plan for senior year applications. If there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is to harness that last bit of energy that keeps you going, even when they serve breakfast for lunch in the cafeteria, not to compete with those around you, but to view your community and the world through a different lens. Learn to be well adjusted so that you can better yourself through your peer’s experiences. Most times, you will learn much more from discussions at the lunch table or podcasts than you will from a biology textbook, and that is the beauty of the community you are about to join. Remember during those inevitable long nights and hell weeks that you are more than a student in a rat race to the top; rather, you are a piece in the puzzle of society. Your only real challenge is finding where you fit. Find clubs, publications, and teams that for whatever reason interest you.

We have all been conditioned to overanalyze from a young age, but follow your heart when you first go to the club fair or see a flyer in the Tillinghast staircase. Even if you do not believe that you are a very extroverted or considerate person, join a service learning club. Even if you weren’t the best athlete in middle school, try out for that sport that you love playing with friends. Finally, even if you were not the smartest student in your previous middle school, challenge yourself in the classroom every day by asking and answering questions. The knowledge that you are promised when applying and being accepted to this school is not reflected in where you go after you four years of high school or even in your transcript, it is reflected in your awareness and understanding of the simple tasks in life. Your ability to empathize, scrutinize, evaluate, demonstrate, and deliberate is what will make these upcoming four years a success.

The school has had a reputation of being a prestigious pressure cooker that manufactures success. It scared me at first, but in reality, this community exposes every student to failure at a very early stage. It is your job to use your passion and this community’s resources as tools to overcome this failure. Every day when you wake up, even if after four or five hours of sleep, you will be a more capable and understanding individual than the day before. Even if this entire article might seem like a very horrific attempt at a somewhat motivational speech, which it is, try to remember that you have a community behind you that wants you to be the best version of you every day, even when you make mistakes.