SENIOR SECTION: Expectation vs. Reality: Seniors reflect upon their assumptions of high school

As the class of 2023’s high school career comes to an end, many seniors reflect on their time at SCHS and their preconceived expectations of high school life compared to the realities they faced within academics, athletics, school events and extracurricular activities.

When senior Otso Karali entered his freshman year, he expected himself to stay enrolled in fast-paced and advanced courses throughout high school. Karali feels the reality of his high school courseload matched his expectations prior to starting high school.

“I think in eighth grade, since I was taking the honors level classes in middle school, I expected to continue on track going into high school. As years went on, I tried to develop a pattern of trying to take on more and more rigor as the years went on, so just beating whatever I had last year,” Karali said.

Karali earned the title of Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction after earning a score of three or higher on five or more AP exams and is proud of his ambition in pursuing his academic endeavors.

“Since I was already taking so many exams, I was definitely expecting to be getting some kind of reward. It never was a goal, but when I did get it, I was pretty happy,” Karali said. “Just beating those hurdles and becoming the best student or version of myself. I’m happy that I took the leap and believed in myself and believed that I could take the next step compared to the average class.”

Senior Heidi Hu initially felt AP courses imposed immense pressure on students. After experiencing the workload, however, she realized that adapting to the more rigorous curriculum was easier than she thought.

“When you think about AP courses, the title itself creates a lot of pressure,’” Hu said. “Reflecting as a senior, when you take an AP course, the pressure is not that necessary.”

Hu took a total of nine AP classes throughout high school. Through enrolling in various advanced courses, Hu identified where her interests and passions lie and learned that it is important not to force oneself into participating in courses they are not truly passionate about taking.

“I learned the hard way that you should only take AP courses that you’re interested in,” Hu said. “As a sophomore, I took AP Euro, and I would never ever take an AP history ever again because I personally am not that history-oriented. I don’t like reading textbooks.”

Similar to Hu, senior Cydney Ventura learned that enrolling in rigorous courses that she was not passionate for would lead to stress and burnout. Ventura initially assumed she would find passion in computer science and take classes oriented to the subject.

“My freshman year, I fully expected my schedule to be compact with APs, but when it came to my sophomore year, I actually realized that I hated computer science,” Ventura said. “I knew for a fact I wouldn’t be able to push myself through those classes.”

Ventura enrolled in nine AP courses throughout high school, compared to the twelve she expected to take.

“I think it’s still a good amount, but compared to what I expected, it is way less,” Ventura said.

Contrary to her expectations, Ventura found an interest in the field of architecture and will continue pursuing it at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2023.

“I was expecting to major in some type of engineering or computer science since we’re in Silicon Valley, but then I realized that’s not really my thing, and I went towards architecture,” Ventura said.

Despite some obstacles during the college admissions process, Karali is looking forward to attending the University of Virginia and believes students should not worry about rejections and the reputations of certain colleges.

“I’m happy that I’m still going where I want to go, so it all worked out in the end for me, even though at some points it looked like it was completely over,” Karali said. “Sometimes the stress of prestige or rank, you need to forget all that and just understand that you’re going to a college and you’re going to have fun wherever you go.”

For Hu, academics ended up taking priority over athletic participation. Hu’s athletic career began during her freshman year, where she played for the girls basketball team. She continued to play through her junior year, but after realizing the sport required more commitment than expected, she decided not to continue playing in her senior year.

“Coming into high school, I had never played any school sports. High school and my freshman year of playing basketball was my first school sport that I had ever played,” Hu said. “I didn’t realize the time commitment that the varsity basketball team would require. It was a high school sport, and I needed more time to focus on other things, such as college apps and extracurriculars to really crack down.”

Ventura played volleyball, basketball and softball during her freshman year, which occupied all three athletic seasons. She expected to maintain her participation throughout high school and eventually play volleyball at a collegiate level. Ventura, however, ultimately felt the need to find a balance between academics, STEM, extracurriculars and athletics.

“My freshman year, playing all three sports, it exhausted me. Having that and then realizing how many APs and how much STEM I was going to have to be juggling, especially in my junior year, I just came to the point of being so tired and exhausted that I couldn’t juggle much more than volleyball,” Ventura said. “Compared to my beginning expectation, I ended up playing volleyball just for fun.”

Seeking out the positive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Karali branched out to participate in school events and clubs on campus despite having initial opposition against getting involved.

“In eighth grade, I was definitely very shy and not very open to going to any type of events. I think I was just a small fish in a big pond, even learning the halls and still learning about school,” Karali said. “By the time of my junior year, I felt like I had spent so much time in quarantine. I definitely wanted to get out there and go do stuff more, so by the time junior year began, that’s when I started joining more clubs.”

Hu also initially steered clear of school events and activities. After applying for SCHS’s Leadership elective, however, she unexpectedly gained a refreshing perspective on school-wide events.

“In my freshman year, I was not involved in anything. In fact, I even went out of my way to avoid participating in homecoming and dressing up and going to dances,” Hu said. “I applied for an appointed position to be an Event Representative. I didn’t have many expectations. I was honestly scared. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

Hu enjoyed the community within Leadership. She proceeded to run for Junior Council President her junior year and ASB Communications Commissioner her senior year.

“When I ran for Class President, that was my leap of faith. Never ever did I think I would do something like that, and the fact that I did secure the position that I aimed to get was crazy, because I did not talk to anyone my freshman year. I didn’t participate in anything,” Hu said. “I did not expect to be ASB Communications either. I don’t like talking to people, and now, here I am, talking to the school every single day, so that was also something big for me.”

Hu feels the elective gave her an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy at SCHS, which she believes improved her work ethic and enabled exploration of new experiences outside of her comfort zone.

“I wanted to leave my mark. I wanted to put my impact and get involved,” Hu said. “I think Leadership was very integral in shaping who I am as a person today. I love getting involved in school stuff, and Leadership has really helped me see that.”

Ventura stressed the importance that students stay true to themselves rather than living up to the pressure of expectations.

“I used to be so hard on myself, and it used to really get to me,” Ventura said. “Throughout the years, I realized it’s better to just not be robotic. It’s good to have your own personality, and it’s okay if you don’t reach the expectations of everyone else as long as you make yourself happy.”

Through experiencing her expectations of high school play out into realities, Hu discovered value in exploring new possibilities for passions and gaining memorable achievements. She advised those in high school to embark on similar journeys of self-discovery.

“Don’t be afraid to explore yourself and what you’re interested in. Push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and do what you feel like is best for yourself,” Hu said. “I think it’s important to learn what you’re capable of, and in order to learn what you’re capable of, you have to try new things and understand where your limits are and what you’re able to reach.”