A Ten-Point Open Letter to Students at Lowell High School, San Francisco, from an Alum

This isn’t relevant to most of you 2.5 readers, but I really wanted to write this, so I have no apologies.

Dear Lowellite,

You know how people say you’re at an academically elite high school, and how a B-minus at Lowell is like an A at any other public? And how you probably haven’t gotten enough sleep in a week and how you’ve learned to work for the 89.5% that will give you a final A and how you measure time in mods?

Though I anticipate that this won’t apply to every Lowell student, let me (a 3.81 unweighted Lowell alum and a sophomore at UC Berkeley, if that helps you put me in context) share with you what I gleaned from my high school experience, and what I wish someone had told me:
  1. They’re right. Lowell is considered academically elite for a reason. Your high school is like a downsized college but with (probably) more Asians than you’re going to encounter when you leave. The self-scheduling system and arena are exactly like college (but with fewer class options). Learning to plan optimal schedules and alternate schedules and being flexible and dealing with really shitty teachers and still acing the class is part of college, too, and going to Lowell puts you ahead of the game because you’ve already gone through this crap before. And if you’re going to Cal, you will love Tele-Bears because it’s all online and you don’t have to sprint to the social studies department table anymore or push people out of the way to get your classes. (Cal is not any scarier than Lowell, academically. The student body is no more or less brilliant on the whole; you just find more extremes on the brilliant end (so they say; I haven’t experienced this personally) and more kids who think they’re the shit but haven’t met the people smarter than them yet (I have definitely encountered this).) That being said, take all the AP classes you can handle and still get As. Take random classes that no one expects you to, like computer programming and drama and theater tech. They will keep you sane. TA for a teacher at least once. Talk to your teachers. Don’t be too proud or too lazy to ask for help when you need it. Tutor in earnest. Learn how to take really good notes, turn things in on time, and don’t cut class (until second semester of senior year).

  2. College is easier than high school – but a more accurate restatement would be that you have more free time in college to do work for school, but the work is slightly harder, unlike high school where none of the work is that brain-crushing, but the workload is soul-crushing. But I’m going to bet you’re brilliant, so don’t worry about it. (Work your ass off in college anyway, and you’ll be miles ahead of your peers.)

  3. Lowell can be where you find better friends than you have ever had, if you let it be. Most students go through high school between the ages of 14 and 18, give or take a year on either end. For me, at the very least, these were my formative years, when I went through emotional shitstorms involving losing best friends, inappropriate crushes, being afraid of flunking (or C-ing) out of classes, unrequited crushes, body insecurities, actual love, death, realizations about faith and religion, repelling unwanted advances, learning to deal with my family, learning to love my family, breakdowns, friends’ breakdowns, the most stress I had ever encountered, college apps, homework, rehearsals til midnight, those damned video projects, tests, finals, AP tests, minimal sleep, pressure, pressure, pressure – and the most fun I had ever had, the biggest thoughts I had ever entertained, the best work I had ever done. I learned how to open up to people at Lowell, and how to keep friends for longer than the semester we had class together, and how whatever limits I thought I had were just in my head, and that I could push myself that much further. I found my support system at Lowell, and I realized that even though there are cliques, nobody actively hates, and that bouncing around social circles is easier than it might seem. The point is, one person can make all the difference in how you grow up. So offer lots of friendly hands and grab hold of all the ones you can and like, and hold on to the ones you love.

  4. Outside of Lowell, boys aren’t all chickens.

  5. Lowell teaches you how to get the A. It takes the joy out of some subjects, but it makes things you’d otherwise hate into a kind of challenge. In many ways, this is a useful mentality because it’s goal-oriented and will serve you well when you’re doing things you hate, but pay attention to which classes you actually enjoy, and realize that you probably get As in them because you enjoy them, not because you kick yourself until you make the grade.

  6. If you get on the honors/AP English track, plan on not exercising your creative writing skills for the next four years. But if you’re any good, keep writing crazy, fantastic things on the side. Flex those muscles. You’ll thank yourself when college apps come around because storytelling is a useful skill.

  7. Sometime during senior year, all your male acquaintances will suddenly finally hit puberty or something and become supernaturally attractive. Appreciate it.

  8. Lowell will pit you against the smartest kids you have ever met and make you realize there is always someone better than you. This is an important lesson. You are not invincible. Don’t write people off because you think they’re dumber than you or because they have a lower GPA or are taking a lighter courseload. They’re better than you at something, even if it might not be quantifiable.

  9. This is a point I only learned recently. Lowell tells you what you’re good at. I started on the accel math track and ended up getting straight Bs in math for three years until I switched down to Calc AB for senior year (instead of Calc BC), when I finally got As. I left high school convinced that I was really bad at math because Lowell told me I was bad at it. I also left high school thinking I was phenomenal at English and public speaking. Those are my strengths, to some extent, but the fact is I’m a lot better at math than I think I am, and I shouldn’t have let my high school experience shape my view of what I am capable of. I went to college with the mindset that I should avoid and was mentally incapable of studying anything that involved math, so I limited myself to exploring arts and humanities. Maybe I do suck at math so much that I’m going to C out of Math 1A (the equivalent of a year of AB), but it’s a little bit mind-blowing to get over the mental block that I can’t do math. If you think you suck at something, maybe you really do, but being a B-student doesn’t mean that much when everyone else is incredibly talented and you’re in the highest academic track offered. (On that same note, being an A+ student in something non-honors, non-AP means very little. I’m looking at you, regular classes.)

  10. Mr. Spellicy, the AP Econ teacher (who you should take, given the chance), once said something that really hit home for me as some of us were pulling out our hair over college decisions. It was “Did you ever think you weren’t going to college?” And not one of us could honestly say that we ever thought we wouldn’t be able to go to college for academic reasons. Financial, maybe, but getting into some college somewhere was not a question. So consider yourself ridiculously lucky.
I’m proud to have gone to a school where the standard for nerdiness was set higher than average. I might love-hate Lowell for making me grow up too fast and probably taking years off my life from accumulated sleep deprivation and for pigeonholing me into a particular mindset, but at least I skipped a lot of the (completely inane adolescent) hell that most other high school kids go through and collected some beautiful relationships in the process. I really truly sincerely hope you do too.

Well, that was cathartic.

To my fellow alumni, do you have any additions, corrections, or deletions?
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