A few Wednesdays ago, I graduated high school—and just like that, I began the rest of my life. And as much as I pretended for college interviewers, I honestly don’t know what that life looks like.
What I do know is this: in September 2019, I will enroll as a freshman college student. Between now and then, I have 16 months of gap time. This gap year-and-a-bit has been vaguely pencilled into my plans since before I began high school. Loving parents offered gentle but persistent reminders. But why do I want to open up this time rather than starting college as soon as possible?
My primary reason is simple: why not. I’ve spent the last fifteen years of my life defined by institutions: first I was a pre-schooler, then a first grader. I was an elementary schooler, a middle schooler. A freshman, a sophomore, a junior, and most recently, a senior. In the clubs I joined, I existed within pre-defined hierarchies—some administrative, some social. I learned according to set curricula and had fixed lunchtimes and breaktimes and could tell you exactly where I’d be at any time on a week day.
But now I’ve graduated, for the next sixteen months, no one requires anything of me. I am not accountable to any institution, provided I don’t do anything unwise enough to have my offer rescinded. I’m not preparing for any application process or any classes. I’m not planning for any club activities. No one is focused on me or what I’m doing—but me.
The thought is immensely freeing and terrifying. It is entirely my prerogative and no one could stop me—except possibly my parents—from carving a neat trail through Netflix and excavating copious amounts of ice cream from our freezer. If I want to go read a book I want to read—well, Hamlet isn’t glaring at me accusingly from my bookshelf any more! I can’t use “not enough time” as an excuse to get out of anything, because, for better or worse, I have more than enough of it now.
Unfortunately, “not enough time” is the excuse I’ve been using with moderate success for the last months to get out of long runs. With no valid counterargument left, yesterday evening I went with my mother to MacRitchie Reservoir.
After running half the loop, we stopped at a tower I’ve visited many times for bird-watching. There was no one around at that time: too late for birds, too hot for tourists. We sat at the highest level for a long time, without conversation, listening to the forest around as it settled into evening. Each familiar tree I had watched for hours—waiting for a leafbird or malkoha—reinvented itself in the quiet. How the wind bent each branch, how the birdsong overlapped around us. How the reservoir shimmered in the sun. How I can slowly learn the world around me. I thought, how lucky I am to have this space. Looking ahead, it seemed to stretch forever.