My one high school regret


While some students may spend their high school years lamenting over what they could have done differently, small celebrations and joyful moments prove far more memorable than regrets and “what ifs” in the long run. Graphic by Maribelle Lee

The University of Southern California asks me what three adjectives best describe myself. Another typical college application question. I dig for the perfect three words. Creative? Too predictable. Smart? Too boring. Witty? Too narcissistic. Every possibility felt too plain, too boastful or too generous. I close the tab in frustration and move on to the next college’s application, hoping my three words will come to me sooner or later. 

I am no stranger to the infinite cycle of second guessing. That September-senior me lived in fear of the one word she believed truly described herself: regretful.

High school brings countless tiny regrets, many building up to the looming threat of college applications. The obvious, “If I had studied just a little harder in that class, I would have earned an A,” or, “If I had joined that club freshman year, I could be on its executive board by now.” These academically driven internal regrets were followed by their equally devastating counterparts, “Am I too focused on school?” and “Will I walk away from Glenbrook North, diploma in hand, with more knowledge about standard deviations and 1500s European history than party throwing and late-night adventures?I was followed by my own undying criticism from freshman to junior year, and I began senior year with the expectation that my little regrets would pile up and knock me down once my college decisions began to roll in. 

I am happy about how wrong I was.

Looking back on my four years, I do not see the unfavorable grades on my transcript, the clubs I did not join or the school dances I did not attend. I do not dwell on the colleges I was rejected from or the awards I did not receive. Instead, I see the first debate round I won my freshman year. I reminisce about the coffee shop “study dates” with friends that never really involved much studying at all. I will never forget the blissful feeling of my classmates cheering me on for my Chicago Tribune publication. Like everyone, I lead an imperfect life, but the sloppy math assignments and embarrassing debate tournament losses feel distant in comparison to the carefree car rides with my friends and warm hugs from my parents. 

Smart, creative, regretful?” USC no longer cares about my answer to such a deceptively simple question. I submitted my application months ago, but now I feel a lot more certain about my three words. 

While “smart,” “creative” and “witty” are perfectly suitable answers, I would say that “grateful” fits me far better. I have embraced the lessons of my past regrets and freed myself from their shame. My final steps are to prepare to attend a college I love (which did not end up being USC, by the way) and graduate high school alongside people I love even more. My one, final regret? Being so needlessly regretful along the way.