Live (and Learn) Strong

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I only wear one piece of jewelry constantly. It’s not rare or beautiful. It’s not sentimental.  It’s not expensive. Nevertheless, I have worn my yellow Live Strong band ever since I read Lance Armstrong’s autobiography in the seventh grade.

At the age of twelve, I approached a crossroads. My friends were changing, and I was forced to make priorities in school for the first time. I had guidance, but wearing Lance’s yellow band constantly reminded me of who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go. It still does. My education is not my school work. It’s not my test scores or grades. My education is looking at art. It’s reading fiction. It’s staying up late at night to scribble my own adventures. My education is about discovering true passion and pursuing it.

Success demands difficult choices. My best friend moved to California from Taiwan at the age of 2. Her older brothers were forced into English-speaking schools and had to quickly acclimate to their new lives here. My friend remembers her childhood and tells me about her mental math lessons and stressful piano recitals. Her grades are perfect, and her test scores are flawless. Her retention is amazing and she soaks up information like a sponge. She inspires me everyday. But her brothers are constantly pressuring her into college choices and career options that are the most lucrative and prestigious. She is expected to embrace anatomy, but I saw her squirm when we dissected fetal pigs in biology. Success can be measured different ways. If she pursues a medical career, she will be recognized for outstanding work, receive many awards, and maybe even discover a cure or engineer a new medicine. But she will not be happy. Success is not only a measure of achievement, but also fulfillment and happiness. I will choose wisely.

Success is hard work. Last year, I took my first two Advance Placement classes. The big tests were not until May, but we studied for them all year. In AP United States History, my class began with 32 excited sophomores. The next day, the number had dwindled to 28. The next, it had only 24. As the year continued and the work became overwhelming, the number dropped to merely 18 students and of them, only about 10 were diligent and completely focused on May 7th. The first test I took, I received a 56%. It was my first F. My scores remained low, then slowly climbed as I developed a system that worked for me. I read and reread history until it was practically memorized. I used flashcards and I wrote a huge “5” on my bed post so I saw the perfect score before I went to sleep every night. My palms were sweating when I opened my results in July. The exhilaration I felt when I saw my score cannot be compared to anything I had ever felt before. Never, in my entire life, had I been so happy to see the number 5.

Success is also joy. I have always loved art. I love it because there are no wrong answers. Every stroke of a brush is correct. There is no exact formula. Art is free. I have been addicted to photography for three years. I began with no idea how to focus a camera, let alone manipulate the device to make unusual and beautiful photographs. Photography is a part of my education that I never could have predicted would play such an important role in my life. Now I carry my camera with me wherever I go. No matter what I look at, I see through a lens. I have learned how to find beauty everywhere. Everyday, we study new techniques and different moods conveyed through the images. And I love it. Photography may not be my ultimate career. I may never make money or display my work in national art exhibits. Nevertheless, the artistic part of my education will always remain a part of me.

Mark Twain tried to never let his schooling interfere with his education. I remember his advice when school becomes too much. I recognize what school is teaching me besides equations and problems. It’s teaching me how to make difficult choices and how to work hard. It’s also teaching me how to be joyful. I don’t think I will ever take off my yellow wrist band. Lance Armstrong remains my beacon of strength and dedication. He symbolizes everything I hope to apply in my life. I’m climbing a hill and I’m exhausted. My legs are burning. Sweat is dripping off my nose. But I persevere. I have a good attitude. I continue to learn. And I Live Strong.

If you’d like to see some of the photographs produced by Howell High School’s photography class, click here.