When I first attended high school at Boston Latin School, one of the first things that I noticed was the size of the building. It was way larger than any school I’ve ever been to with more than 2 floors and multiple elevators. My eyes widened in awe as I realized that I would be spending my next 4 years of high school here. The halls themselves were a maze with students of various sizes pushing each other to get to class. It didn’t help that rows of purple lockers also lined the halls, making it even more cramped than it already was. I felt intimidated but also excited, mainly because I thought of it as a “new school, new me” type of deal. Not to mention, getting accepted into Boston Latin was already a big deal in itself.
I was a “Bsie,” a term Boston Latin uses to describe kids who start attending in 9th grade. I’ve always thought the label was weird, mainly because it felt like alienation even though the school wanted us to fit in with the crowd. However, the term was also a way for me to find my crowd of other Bsies, so I guess there were advantages.
As I attended Boston Latin as a Bsie, there were a few setbacks. I had to learn not one but TWO languages, one of which was dead. At my old school, language classes were never a priority, people would just goof around while the teacher played a movie on their projector. On top of two languages, I had World History in which I surprisingly survived with decent grades. My old school didn’t have a proper history teacher. The last history teacher I had that taught was back in 6th grade (mind you I was in 9th grade at the time). With all these factors in play, things began to spiral downhill.
In Boston Latin, there is competition, and it was hard for me to compete because I didn’t feel good enough. It started with the Latin worksheets for homework. As I heavily marked up my paper with my pink gel pen, I glanced around and saw my tablemates with little to no corrections at all. I thought to myself, “am I dumber than them?” From then on, the comparisons began. Whenever my teachers would pass back quizzes or tests, I’d sit by myself, frustrated that I couldn’t land a 92 like the student next to me. World History was the real nail in the coffin because I had to relearn two years’ worth of material to understand the curriculum.
I didn’t notice these behaviors when it first started, mainly because I was so obsessed with my grades and success. The toll this took on my mental health and my self-esteem was heavy. In my room, during term finals in the first half of November, I snapped.
Drowsy from waking up from a 3-hour nap, I groggily grabbed my books for another all-nighter. Halfway through, I suddenly heard my door fling open and saw my mom on the other side. It was customary in Asian households to not knock on your child’s door before entering, and my parents were no exception. Immediately, the battlefield commenced between me and my mother, ready to make our moves. However, victory was clear in sight as I knew the perfect move to knock her down. It was the good ol’ “LEAVE ME ALONE,” but what had been my victory suddenly felt like my loss. My mom’s demeanor grew grim and her resolve was broken; I had hurt her.
My dad eventually intervened on the battlefield to help us find peace. I remember it took me a while to open up, but my mom was a storm of emotions as if she had saved a whole decade’s worth of worries to chuck at me. I was too stunned to speak, to the point where I couldn’t maintain my composure and broke down in a ball of tears and snot from all the stress.
When quarantine hit, it was a time of isolation, but also self-reflection. With less work on the table and more time for relaxing, it came across my mind that I tended to compare myself against others. At first, I didn’t believe it, because I’m myself, why would I do that? Pondering about all the times I degraded and emotionally hurt myself, I didn’t want to go through that again for the rest of my high school career. What happened to the “new school, new me” vibe? Determined and for the first time, I slouched back in my chair and gave myself a vibe check.
Returning to school, I set myself limits by knowing which classes I could and could not handle. Not to mention, being able to choose classes that weren’t academic into my schedule, I quickly picked up art because it was something that I enjoyed. I didn’t care if I didn’t stack 4 AP classes (especially AP Latin) on my plate as long as I was happy.
Looking back at myself now, I’m glad to have been aware of these destructive behaviors and improve on them. Had I not reflected on myself, I probably would’ve been a comparison automaton. It’s not like I haven’t stopped comparing myself completely, but I don’t do it as frequently. Sure, it’s the occasional “oh, their work is better than mine,” but I know not to let those things determine who I am. Rather than be pessimistic, I like to think that everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and that I am my own person and should focus on making myself happy rather than live up to those around me. Living this way for the past year has made my junior year surprisingly less stressful and fun. I got to connect with others I hadn’t known before, touch grass, improve my grades, and finish my Latin requirements!