I still remember my first block at Hawken. “[FREE],” the thin blue letters of SAS informed me. So I sat in a corner of the AC lobby, trying to read a lightly annotated copy of Transatlantic, painfully aware of every single peer and teacher walking past, unsure of how to spend my first 80 minutes of high school.
As classes began, Stirn Hall quieted down, with a few stragglers speed-walking through the halls away from the cafe (some things really never change). I continued leafing through Transatlantic, rereading lines, skipping pages, wondering why I hadn’t signed up for one of the other book discussions: Iron & Silk, The Song of Achilles, Lavinia.
Freshman me believed that the list of summer reading books would be the only thing I shared with the rest of the class of 2020 when we all began high school. I may not have a single other factor in common with the rest of my grade, but at least I can share one familiar title. So instead of choosing one book, I read them all.
The book whose discussion I joined was in fact my least favorite book. I felt disconnected from the characters; the plot did not embrace me; I began and finished Transatlantic feeling completely apathetic. For that reason, I joined its discussion, knowing that I wouldn’t feel compelled to say anything the entire time, and ergo remain shy and silent.
My last block at Hawken, that fateful Thursday before our “extended” Spring Break, was also a Free. I spent those last 80 minutes in Ms. Buckley’s art classroom with a lifelong friend I had first met in our Humanities 9 class with Dr. Ialacci. Two hours ago, at lunch, I had actually just cried -- lowkey wept, actually -- when Doc Ialac said, in reference to how we may not return to campus after spring break, “Bye! Have a good rest of your day, no, rest of your life!”
So that whole entire F block, as my friend and I painted, listened to Lo-Fi, talked about incredible books like Pachinko and amazing classes like Strangers from a Different Shore, a voice in the back of my head kept nagging, this might be your last day of normal high school, ever. Like, ever. I voiced my concern aloud as the clock ticked 3:20, and we dragged our art stools onto the tables one last time. We both giggled nervously and shrugged, uncertain.
Our whole grade wallowed in that uncertainty for weeks, until, late April, we learned for sure that that Thursday had indeed been our class’s last day in Stirn Hall. How ironic, I had thought, that my very first and last classes at Hawken had both been free blocks. Yet at the same time, how fitting. Freedom was the one thing I could for sure say Hawken has given me. Freedom with my choices for the future. Freedom to voice my concerns. Freedom to shape and build and learn and fight and tune and race and create and give and feel, so fully, emotions I no longer wanted to hide.
Thus, my high school experience began and ended. How similar they had been. But also, how many oceans apart. To everyone who has harmonized these past four years for me: thank you.
18 May 2020