By Alexus Stewart
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
The fall of 2016 was supposed to be my junior year but I knew after winter break that I needed and wanted to take another year. Taking another year changed the way that I used the school and the way I think about my educational journey. At the time, I was very focused on what other people would think if I took another year rather than thinking of how I would benefit from the extra time. I no longer think that way. Another big change is that I began using resources outside the school. When I think back on why I decided to stay another year, I think about three things. First, my academics, mainly my writing and reading. Second, the desire to become more confident and independent. Third, a search for support and community. Now is the time for self-reflection and as much as I hate it, I must go back because this story started at a different point. In order for you to fully understand how I've grown during my full time in the upper school, you must know how it first began.
This is before I was even 5’0 feet. I was just twelve years old. And I didn’t go to classes or even really participate in community responsibilities, if you can believe it. I wasn’t excited at the start of the school year because there was a new teacher and she used to teach in a public school and was more strict. Jade came in full swing with classes trying to force people to do stuff and I purposely avoided her classes because I knew that she would force me to work on reading and writing and at that time, I didn’t feel comfortable or confident with my reading and writing skills, especially in a classroom setting.
Dramatic scene: I woke up one day and did some self-reflection on the twelve years of my life. I realized that I needed and wanted to improve my reading and writing skills, and that's when I asked Jade for support. Ever since that day Jade has been supporting me outside and inside of school. From that day forward, I was motivated and determined about my education.
But motivation and determination isn’t just something that happens over night. Over the course of that school year I worked with Jade and by the end of the year, I had way more confidence in myself . This is a big part of who I became after that year because I was able to get the support I needed and excel in my reading and writing with her.
Having a lot of freedom comes with challenges and the biggest thing that I learned during that first year in the upper school is to have perseverance and not be afraid to ask for support. I recognized in that year that I was more focused on the outcome than the process. But I also realized there would be no outcome without the process. Learning how to use my freedom was difficult. I had to learn how to become self-directed at a young age but with all the struggles I had to face, it equipped me for my later years in high school. I began to participate to my fullest ability and actually enjoy learning.
I was enjoying learning so much that I was participating in classes whose topics I didn't even like. Most people would have not have attended the classes, but for me it wasn't about the topic it was about the skills that I would be gaining from the class and knowing that these were skills that I wanted. I made sure that I had this mindset when I was picking my classes because it changed the way that I perceived the classes that I attended. With learning how to use my freedom I was able to gain more independence with my education and what comes with an independence is having to give up things I love in order for me to keep on growing. I gave up cheese-tasting and park time. I gave up on only taking the fun classes all the time. But I also gave up my fear of not being good enough, and my fear of putting myself in uncomfortable situations. All of it to better my future. It wasn't giving up exactly; it was letting go of something I didn't need right then and there. I am now able to identify when something is the best decision for me. For example, taking another year was a great decision that I made. I knew what I wanted and needed from that extra year.
In my time in the Upper School I was able to accomplish and lead many things that I’m so proud of, such as winning a Certificate of Accomplishment for the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, a 2016, Brooklyn Youth Voice Awards filmmaking grant, serving as Workshop Leader at the 2015 AERO Conference, working on the Student Hiring Committee, and the NADEC Planning Committee and many more.
Now I know what you all are wondering. What did I do in my extra year? And why was it so amazing? Let’s talk about what I did for the 2017 to 2018 school year. I was able to get an internship at Educational Video Center and there I produced two films. The first one was about the structural conditions and racial biases that lead to inferior medical care for people of color in NYC. The other one investigated the MTA, mainly looking at how people with disabilities are not able to fully access the transit system. EVC also helped me improve my reading and writing even more because I had to read a lot and I had to read out loud to people in the group who didn't speak english. Doing this helped me get better and feel more confident with reading aloud. And for the writing aspect, the teacher made us do journals everyday and I had to write questions for the professional interviews and the street interviews. For the professional interview questions in particular, I had to push my limits with my writing.
In the spring of that year, I pushed my writing even further. When I would have been writing a graduation essay and getting ready to graduate, I was instead focusing on a writing project I was passionate about.
That cycle I began working on an essay with Kate that tried to answer the question, “Why aren’t there women and people of color in action sports?” This essay was the first time I was invested in analytical writing. I did all the work and was always prepared for every class. I finished my essay before it was due. I say all of this because working with Kate really helped me make so many improvements in such little time. Most people would think that this was just an essay, but for me it helped me understand why I don't see more people like me at the mountains or in the skatepark. It also inspired my common app essay that asked about a problem that I would like to solve. I had passion about writing. It didn't feel like something I had to do, it felt like something I wanted to do. Sometimes I would be in the small classroom researching this essay, trying to learn more and some of it didn't even make it into the essay. I just wanted to keep learning.
My last couple years in high school I really fell in love with learning about social issues and becoming a part of the solution. One of the ways I became part of a solution was the founding of Just Period and becoming more a part of the STOKED community. (Just Period provides homeless people with menstrual products while also destigmatizing periods and STOKED is a sports mentoring program, that enables youth to get involved in action sports such as skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing.) STOKED has given me so many amazing opportunities and I'm so grateful for everything that I was able to be a part of, like snowboarding, skating, interning at HUGE, Vice, creating an organization and winning awards. STOKED didn’t help with my academics but they were able to make me be more confident and independent, and to become a part of a community that will forever be with me.
At first I thought the biggest things that I learned in my extra year were how to improve my academics, and how to make films, but it wasn’t true. That year I grew more a part of three different communities: BFS, STOKED, and EVC. They all had great things about them, and problems too, but in all of them I was able to be my fullest self. I was able to ask for support whenever I needed it and bring up my concerns in safe communities.
After all this, when looking into colleges I knew what type of community I wanted and needed to further my education. I desired to be in a community that is going to push every aspect of me, that is going to be support my work, and will be there when I need help. And lastly, to be in spaces where everyone wants to learn from each other. I believe that Ithaca College is going to provide me with the community that I desire and need.
Why am I ready to graduate? This question plays over in my head. I can’t give you one set answer because being prepared to graduate isn’t just black and white. But if you really want to know and be able to get a straightforward answer, here I go. My definition of me being ready to graduate is having attained skills that I would need in any environment that I choose to go, such as communication, seeking support, self direction, organization, perseverance and motivation. And if you haven’t realized yet, I have already mastered all of these skills. Everything that I learned at BFS has shaped who I am and who I want to be and where I am going. I will be attending Ithaca College in the fall and if it wasn't for the skills that I was able to obtain I wouldn't have been able to get the Park Scholarship which is a full ride to Ithaca. The perks of the scholarship are getting $2500 for technology, $1200 for books, going abroad for free and a stipend of $2,045. The point of the scholarship is to support the next generation of communications leaders who are engaged and passionate about the field of communications, and community service, and who thrive on academic and personal challenge. Soon as I saw this scholarship I knew that I was on the right path with my education and personally many of the skills that I have learned have prepared me for the Park Scholarship program.
No doubt my time in the upper school has been a time of significant personal growth in terms of knowledge, experience, and skills that I am always going to have with me. My educational journey has not been what I expected. I never imagined myself saying that working with Jade helped me with motivation and confidence; I never would've imagined that STOKED and EVC would make me more connected to action sports, social issues, filmmaking and make me more independent; finally, I never would’ve imagined that taking another year would have such a significant value on me. I will never dismiss my educational journey even if the outcome wasn’t what I expected. The last thing, BFS wasn’t ever my final destination, it was a part of my journey.