How to approach the new school year

by Abby Blachman

It is the beginning of a new school year. For me, the beginning of a new school year is filled with promise of fresh energy, new living spaces and lists of goals. The sensory experience I feel with each new beginning is something indescribable. The best comparison I can make to describe the feeling of a new beginning is that of opening an untouched notebook with crisp, white lined pages and beginning to write. The notebook has no folded or crumpled pages, no signs of being worn or bent. It could be filled with anything.

It is this crisp, new notebook feeling that propels me forward, encourages me to make new plans, have a fresh perspective, set goals for myself and push myself. I am sure that many people experience the sensory wonder of the new-notebook feeling to different extents at the beginning of each school year. Maybe you are approaching the year with a sense of excitement that outweighs your anxiety. Or maybe you may feel a sense of dread and a bit of emotional drain when thinking of the classes and experiences ahead. Perhaps you are somewhere in between. Wherever you stand, you probably know what it’s like to feel as if you are turning a corner filled with new rules, new opportunities, and new chances - the “new notebook feeling”.

I cherish this feeling - it is unique and special. It is where ideas are born, where new connections are made. But I think it is essential that when we turn a new page, we allow our senses to remember a very different kind of feeling that we may have experienced just months before.

The antithesis to this “new notebook feeling” is one that I can also only describe by comparing it to a bound set of pages that aren’t new or crisp - those of my personal journal. I finished filling up its pages at the end of last spring, and it is loved and worn. For me, this journal epitomizes the end-of-school year feeling. The journal has battle scars in the form of torn pages and a bent back cover. It is filled with knowledge, of reflections, of mindless blabbering. When I look at it, even without opening it and pouring over the contents of its pages, I feel a combination of satisfaction, exhaustion, disappointment, pride and reflection.

If I had to characterize one single event in my year that epitomized my “old journal feeling," it would be the senior GES send-off at the end of each year. This event has come to be one of my very favorite times during my first two years of college. The advice is often cheesy, or sporadically orated, or brutally honest, or heartfelt, or daunting. I think that the event is a beautiful chance for reflection. 

Coincidentally, in my old journal, I wrote down some of the words that our beloved seniors said to us this past spring. I checked in with some of them earlier this month to hear them restate some of the words they passed on that night, and it was exactly the same. Here are some of my favorite pieces of wisdom that they bestowed:

  1. “Try to learn something new in every conversation. The most important person in the room is the one sitting right in front of you.”

  2. “If you take off a day or an afternoon to do something totally unproductive but which makes you happy, don’t feel guilty. Busyness culture I think contributes to this, but if I was just scrolling through the Internet doing something mindless, I felt guilty that I wasn't working on GES or FUP or readings or homework or building my resume. Combatting that guilt intentionally will help you in the long run.”

  3. “The grass is always greenest where you water it."

  4. “Balance is incredibly hard to come by - don’t kill yourself trying to get there. Be kind to yourself.”

These four pieces of advice can be interpreted in many different ways. They come from very different mouths and very different minds. These pieces of advice, for me, are coming to represent pillars of the “old journal feeling." These statements stand for the importance of human connection, of mental health, of investing your time in what makes you the happiest.

As we embark on the adventure of a new year, I think it is essential that we carry both the “new notebook feeling” and the “old journal feeling" with us. It is easy to fall into the mindset of the “new notebook” and let our minds swirl with plans and goals, with tasks and desires, with anxiety and anticipation and high expectations. But it is crucially important that we also carry that feeling of reflection, of that worn-out sense of accomplishment, of happiness and sadness and nostalgia all at once. It is essential that we allow ourselves to remember the time each year when we create the space with our GES seniors when we allow them to reflect and bestow advice upon us about maintaining mental health and happiness, about finding time to reflect, about investing in people.

Cheesily enough, I actually carried my new notebook and my old journal with my in my backpack to my first day of classes that began my semester abroad in Hong Kong just a few weeks ago, and I have done so every day since. Not every moment, or even close to all of my moments, are a perfect balance of the two mindsets, and they won’t ever be. In fact, it would not be in the spirit of remembering the advice given to us by our seniors last spring for me to expect myself, or anyone else for that matter, to feel both at once. But I keep them as constant reminders that both are important and both deserve attention.