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SWAG writers reflect on what they have learned in high school, academically and personally

PMG PHOTO - Some of this year's SWAG writers.The school year in the West Linn-Wilsonville district has officially come to a close. The recently freed students are flocking to the swim park, taking up summer jobs, going on day trips, patronizing Salt and Straw, and just enjoying summer.

Although school is out, we had one last assignment for our SWAG writers: Share what you've learned this past year. Some writers reflected about what they've learned about themselves, some about how they learned to thrive in high school. Some writers have just survived the infamously difficult junior year, and some are off to college. SWAG will return to the pages of the Wilsonville Spokesman in the fall.

PMG FILE PHOTO  - MayesThriving freshman year

Wow, how the year has flown by. As summer begins and we near a new school year, I thought it would be helpful to leave the incoming freshmen a few tips about what I wish I knew going into my freshman year at Wilsonville High School.

The most important thing is to go to freshman orientation at the beginning of the year. I went to orientation, and it was really helpful to learn the layout of the school and where your classes are going to be so you don't get lost on the first day. Everyone working with link crew (the school's student leadership team) is super friendly, and you get an opportunity to meet some upperclassmen and students from other middle schools.

My biggest tip for getting good grades is to turn in your work — yes it really is as simple as that. Most of the people who I know who have been struggling with their grades this year are struggling because they have missing assignments, which are big fat zeros in the grade book. As long as you go to school and turn in classwork, keeping a high grade should be a piece of cake — but once you fall behind it can be hard to catch up.

I would also recommend finding an extracurricular activity you enjoy. Whether it's a sport or club, it really helps you make new friends and meet people from other grades. I participated in drama club this year, and had an absolutely spectacular time participating in shows. I also got to make new friends, and meet some really awesome upperclassmen.

My final tip is for incoming freshmen who are going to be taking AP human geography at Wilsonville High School: study the quizlets on Mr. Guay's website. This is one tool that helped me a lot and I probably wouldn't have done very well if I didn't study them.

As you go into your freshman year, be open to trying new things. High school is the perfect time to be adventurous and experience things that may be out outside of your comfort zone. Try new things and get involved in the community! Believe me, if you don't you may end up regretting it. That's all from me. Thanks for a wonderful year, have a great summer and enjoy the sun!

— Ainsley Mayes

Wilsonville High School

PMG FILE PHOTO - ByunJunior year: The do's and don'ts

Euphoria is defined as "a feeling of intense excitement and happiness," also known as what you experience on the last day of junior year. Even now, over a week since school ended, it hasn't fully hit me that what is widely accepted as the most difficult year of high school is finally over.

I am absolutely not the only one who feels this way — my fellow soon-to-be seniors are all practically giddy with disbelief. After a long year of AP exams, homework, extracurriculars, more homework, standardized testing and, if you can believe it, even more homework, we're finally free. That is, until we have to start preparing for the next phase of our life.

But for now, we have the blissful months of summer ahead to recover from the ordeal that was our third year of high school.

Making the leap from sophomore to junior year is hard on everyone. The expectations, both academically and outside of school, are higher than before. That being said, what can rising juniors do to prepare themselves?

The biggest thing that comes to mind goes against the core of most motivational quotes and concepts: You don't have to give 100% to every single thing you do. The most valuable skill is learning how to prioritize your time. You are just one person, and it is wholly unrealistic to expect perfection in every facet of your life. A 10-point quiz is not on the same level as your AP chemistry final that is worth 25% of your grade. As important as it is to put in an effort into all the things you do, stressing over every single thing will leave you utterly exhausted.

Likewise, constantly competing against your peers will just wear you out. If your friends get an A on a test and you get a C+, that is not the end of your academic career.

It's OK to trip up — I can guarantee that there is not a single student who makes it through the entire year without any bumps along the way. It's so easy to compare yourself to others, especially in a year where everyone's taking the SAT or ACT and your scores are supposedly indicative of academic success.

The best thing you can do is put less focus on the numbers, take

care of yourself and try to have some fun.

— Sydney Byun

Wilsonville High School

PMG FILE PHOTO - AlharithiDon't be discouraged

In high school, the most difficult things to comprehend are the blatantly obvious truths we have been told all our lives.

This year I've experienced a seemingly obvious yet very important lesson that students at any stage of high school should learn not only for their academic career but for the rest of their lives: Every single goal is a meaningful goal and every single achievement is a meaningful achievement, but only if they make it that way.

With highly emphasized recognitions such as the honors program, AP distinctions, valedictorian, etc., it's hard for students to see their victories as significant when they aren't being recognized by a wider audience.

Especially in competitive districts such as West Linn, Wilsonville and Lake Oswego where there is an obvious focus on impeccability, students' hard work is overlooked by the community in favor of the end result.

My advice for students is that if you know you worked hard for a specific goal, don't be discouraged if your goal or what you achieve isn't recognized in the same way as your peers. If you barely pass a class that isn't your strong suit after spending countless hours outside of class diligently working, it shouldn't be less of an achievement to you just because someone got an A.

If you look, there will always be someone that has accomplished "more," but you are seeing only a sliver of their life and they, too, could be wallowing in disappointment at the fact that someone is achieving "more" than them.

— Reem Alharithi

West Linn High School

PMG FILE PHOTO - SpurrEmbrace the discomfort

Approaching senior year, I've realized that perhaps the most valuable advice I can lend to incoming high schoolers is to embrace discomfort: Bends in the road can appear sudden and confusing, but they propel us to situations that strengthen our attitudes and actions.

As an incoming freshman three years ago, I felt that I would have to uneasily push through intense academics and an awkward social life to get to the finish line. I thought that I would just flounder about miserably, alone in my discomfort, slowly giving up and devoting myself to the ascetics of schoolwork and studies. I was completely wrong.

Feeling uncomfortable isn't only valid, it's also normal. And from the first day of classes, reaching out to the school community — peers, faculty, opportunities — forms branching support networks. In meeting other students like me and advisers whom I could count on, I realized that the discomfort of newness didn't feel quite so infinite anymore.

High school is no "High School Musical" by any means; it is not easy to navigate. Former middle schoolers will reorganize into different classes, sport teams and friend groups. Activities or groups, new or changed, might suddenly become newness as an asset, a fresh perspective.

In my freshman year, I joined clubs and groups that weren't remotely related, nor did I have any experience in them, but I ultimately enjoyed exploring new spheres. Freshman year was the time to delve into the vast realm of social, academic and athletic activities.

Discomfort can also include the evolution of interest. Realizing that a class isn't as lovable as it used to be (or that another is unexpectedly more so) might feel alienating, as if change in interest translates to change in personality.

But it's important to embrace fluctuations in opinion; they might appear nerve-wracking, but they are critical to growth. I began freshman year hoping to pursue a career in research. By the end of sophomore year I planned on pursuing design. Midway through this year I considered writing and literature. Now I have no idea, but I trust that I can continue to take risks in order to find potential passion.

The trajectory of my found interests and passions is not one bit linear: it's a mess of loops and curves and switchbacks — and continues even into my senior year.

I hope that as I prepare for this final year, the following thought might resonate with incoming freshmen — that with an open mind, we can find our places. By embracing the discomfort and obstacles we encounter, we might actually find ourselves stronger and better equipped for future endeavors.

— Penelope Spurr

Lake Oswego High School

PMG FILE PHOTO  - LeeRemember the good times

Senior summer is an odd state of limbo. On the one hand, I am supremely relaxed, having passed through the gantlet of high school and college applications.

I am one of those all-knowing high school graduates who can laugh indulgently as I watch my younger peers trudge onward through the landscape I've already traversed. Yet, at the same time, I find myself in the most naive, clueless group of all, that of the incoming college freshmen.

How are we to prepare ourselves for such a novel environment, for our newfound independence, for the formation of a new life? How are we to let go of the world of our childhood, with all of its routines and comforts and friendships?

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how this transition can occur successfully. At the moment, I am simply trying to enjoy my summer, spending as much time relaxing with my friends and family as possible before I plunge into the deep end. I am reading the books I haven't had time to read, baking the pastries I haven't had time to bake and generally am enjoying life as I haven't had time to enjoy it for a while.

After all, the best moments I remember from my senior year are not the times my friends and I spent huddled around our books at lunchtime, frantically studying for a test the next period. They're the times we had a picnic on the grass outside or performed a senior skit for the holiday orchestra concert. They're the school dances I, against all odds, actually enjoyed (OK, maybe not the dance part, but at least the dinner). They're the spontaneous times I decided to procrastinate and bake a cake for a friend's birthday or, once, for a physics test.

I think I, along with many of my peers, often forgot in the midst of the maze that we had lives to live as well as grades to earn. I hope all the students in the school district can remember this from time to time, though I fear I and many others will forget it again as we forge ahead into college.

Fortunately, I have this summer to remember it as much as possible, and perhaps there truly is no better way to say goodbye to the life I know than to savor it to the fullest. To all of my friends who know me and don't believe I'm actually relaxing for once, I have this to say: I'm free to bake cookies with you — after I finish writing this article.

— Elena Lee

Lake Oswego High School

PMG FILE PHOTO - DeVineFocus on moderation

In my day-to-day life, I do an excessive amount of almost everything; I study and worry too much. Since I want to calm my nerves (and limit the all-nighters I pull studying), I want to do more activities in moderation.

Moderation, after all, is healthy. I think everyone can benefit from moderation. Not only that, I think summer would be a great time for me, and everyone else my age, to practice moderation. For instance, I want to improve my math skills this summer. That itself sounds sad. Math skills. However, I know performing the task moderately over the summer will make the same thing during the school year easier.

Besides that, I have the same plan with working out more. I know sticking to my goals will be hard and giving in to binge watching "Big Little Lies" and seeing "Rocketman" a dozen more times would be easier, but I can achieve them.

Moderation will not only help me in school, but also will help me in the rest of my life. I will not get in the habit of having the wrong amount of anything. The same can be said about any other high schooler practicing moderation.

— Lily DeVine

Lake Oswego High School

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