Letter from a Post-Cynical High Schooler


Cassandra Bundrick

Natalie Svinth talks about her experience with Running Start.

Natalie Svinth, Reporter

Ever since I was in seventh grade, I had a plan: I was going to go to Peninsula for the first two years, and then as soon as I could, I would transfer to Tacoma Community College for full-time Running Start. I knew that high school wouldn’t be my thing even before it wasn’t my thing; freshman and sophomore year were filled with dramatic journal-entries on the margins of notebook paper, frustrated stars, and desperately drawn, lead-heavy weeping faces. I felt trapped, but at least there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

When telling people about my plan, one of the most common responses that I received (after the initial praise for saving money on college tuition) was “What about the high school experience?” These words never failed to bring visions of football games and screaming green and yellow tutus to mind, all things that I couldn’t care less about. I laughed in their skeptical faces. The high school experience is no experience for me, I thought. I would rather take my dog on a walk and eat crackers by myself.

To me, high school seemed like a synthetic dream that furthers the years of distraction from what real-life really is, even as students are cognizant that it isn’t actually real. Why prolong the inevitable?  

Almost a lifetime in a town as claustrophobic as Gig Harbor can leave one wanting something more; even the lustrous shades of Disneyland plastic are bound to become nauseating after a while. In the grand scheme of things, the places where I was spending my time seemed tiny, and I couldn’t wait to move on.

In junior year, I plunged into full-time Running Start for three main reasons: to escape the shenanigans of other teenagers; to benefit from an elevated, more serious learning environment and a flexible schedule; and to get a taste of Tacoma after ODing on GH sugar water.

I wrote off high school as a part of my past, and at first, I felt fine doing so. The deeper I advanced into the quarter, however, I began to feel something amiss.

At community college, you are in classes with people who have full-time jobs and families and who are just trying to juggle the calamities of life. Friends are hard to come by when you are only grouped with people for three months and when everyone else already has a full-blown life. A quarter can come and go without much of a dent on this earth, much less on someone’s outlook on the world and self-understanding. What I didn’t realize was unique about high school is that you are surrounded by people just as lost and liminal as you are yourself; we are all searching for ourselves together.

The high school experience can be whatever you want to make of it. It doesn’t have to be going to football games and dressing up for spirit weeks, but there are small things that feel like some sort of magic, things that there won’t be a place for at any other time of your life. Some aspects of high school are designed to help you grow. There are enough years of your life when you will just be, and very few when you learn who that someone actually is. Teachers are with you for an entire school year and sometimes longer, learning who you are and helping you to shape the person you will become.

Sometimes, the place where you are at is right where you are supposed to be; the standard four years in high school are already fleeting enough. I was so focused on the end of high school throughout my sophomore and freshman year that much that there was to learn was lost. I needed to learn to engage with my environment, to become comfortable in the present. If you are always looking toward what is next and are miserable with where you are, what kind of quality of life is that?

There were a multitude of reasons why I wanted to attend TCC, and many of these motives are completely valid. The program exists as a wonderful alternative to the traditional high school path and can be a perfect fit for many kinds of people. What was too much free-time for me could be much-needed time to work for others. However, the main reason why I went to TCC full-time for the first quarter of my junior year was to escape more than anything else. It’s easy to look for reasons to want to leave and focus on the negative, but after coming back to high school for the last semester of junior year, I can say that it is my choice to be here and that this choice has many reasons behind it.

Not to be overly-dramatic, but the last line of the film Into the Wild sums up my premature end to high school pretty well: “Happiness is only real when shared.” While at community college, I wasn’t able to experience the process of learning who I am alongside others experiencing the same thing.

You won’t find a PHS bumper sticker on the back of my car, and green and yellow rarely infiltrates my scholar’s garb of black, but in my own convoluted way, I suppose that I do have a grain of school spirit somewhere in my heart.