In Retrospect – Letter From Alyssa W.

Hey, you. Long time no see.

It’s been a while. You’re probably curious, from what I remember, about the future. You’re full of some healthy mixture of fear and anticipation for what life will bring in the years ahead. Your head is in the clouds and your wanderlust is out of control, but you know where your priorities are, even though you have no idea where to start. That, at least, hasn’t changed.

But a lot has. For the first time, you will take an active interest in politics. You will start to explore your identity and its place in America. You will learn to understand that happiness can be bought, but it is far more significant when earned. You will greet new family members and say goodbye to old ones, all at once. You will discover, you will grow, and you will embrace it all.

There will be times when you don’t know what to do, and times when you want to give up. Those will all come to pass, as will the stress, the anxiety, and the struggles. Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit – you’ll still be stressed, anxious, and struggling, but you’ll know how to deal with it. Better?

The truth is that things will only get more challenging – what matters is your mindset. Stay optimistic (I know you’re going to end up more of a realist, but it doesn’t hurt to try) and keep doing what you’re passionate about. Actually, that reminds me – there are so many incredible things that you’ll end up doing that will change your life.

It begins with Science Club for Girls. You join the Rocket Team because why not? And you end up loving it and coming back year after year. You make it to Nationals one year, and that sets off an entire history of travel. Four visits to Washington DC, a weekend in California, annual visits to New York and Connecticut, an incredible three week stint in Guatemala…but I digress.

(Alyssa, center in red coat, and other members of SCFG's Rocket Team, meet Astronaut Mae Jemison, spring 2015)

(Alyssa, center in red coat, and other members of SCFG’s Rocket Team, meet Astronaut Mae Jemison, spring 2015; photo credit: Science Club for Girls.)

With SCFG you get your first internship, at MIT. You will have NO IDEA what you’re doing, but with common sense, caution, and a hefty load of luck, you learn more than you could ever imagine. This sparks your first interest in biochemistry and lab work. Your second internship is even more fun than the first. You get to play with robots for a few hours every week, and even end up translating in Spanish. Your Spanish, by the way, has grown leaps and bounds ever since you went to South America. You don’t care about kids right now (I mean, you ARE a kid right now), but after seeing your nieces and teaching so many amazing students, things will change.

There is a renewed love of theatre, which gives you a voice. It is in developed in JSA, where you spend many long nights planning events and writing speeches. When you decide to start volunteering and leading, it is because you love musicals and people believed in you. They still do.

Then there’s Girls Who Code, which you find through SCFG. You were, oddly enough, in the middle of filming for a crazy music video when you decided to apply, and spent an entire summer learning how to code. You won’t regret the program or the video, and both will follow you for years afterwards, probably to college (where you’re going to end up majoring in computer science – Spoiler Alert!). You love it.

Speaking of college, the Ivy League is not the only option you have. Dartmouth was amazing and welcoming and comfortable, but ultimately, not the best fit for you. You will go to a school that you love, and that loves you back. But most importantly, you don’t need to worry about the tests, the financial aid, the application…none of it. Trust me, you figure it all out and everything turns out spectacularly.

Your first AP classes will try to murder you, but you survive. Actually, you do better than that – you coax them into cooperation with hard work and timeliness, and eventually, your final grades are ones you are proud of. Nothing is easy, nothing is simple, but you get it done, and you get it done well.

By the time you turn 18, you’ll feel like you have “surviving high school” down to a science. Just when everything feels normal and habitual, you realize that you’re moving on in just a few more months. Again, you feel that sense of fear and anticipation, the moths fluttering around in your rib cage, the palpitations of your veins against the walls of your skin. Again, fantasies of the future hype you up and psych you out simultaneously. This time though, you have learned to push yourself. You have learned to take things one step at a time. You have learned to take deep breaths. And most importantly, you are ready for it.

I know it doesn’t seem all that simple right now. It rarely does. But in the end, it all works out, trust me. Take it from someone who knows.

See you in a few,

Alyssa W.

*******

Alyssa W. is a high school senior and current SCFG participant.  She has been a member of the SCFG Rocket Team for three years and has been part of the SCFG High School STEM Research Internship program for two years – this year, she is interning at Rethink Robotics, recently named one of Fast Company’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies for 2016.”

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