“Do you take academic classes? Are there flash mobs at lunch? Do you even have to study?” These are the questions that plagued my high school experience. In 2015, I began my freshman year of high school at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, where I majored in performance theatre. Coming off of a very rough-and-tumble middle school experience, I had high hopes that my latter years would be something out of the likes of Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Sadly, it was anything and everything but that. A word for the wise: it’s not liked the movies.
I vividly remember the moment I realized that things may not be as they seem. I was sitting in my acting class. It was our third week of high school and my teacher, a retired Broadway dancer, was lecturing us that by the end of the year, we should narrow our college choices down to a max of five choices. Staring down at my shoes, I was mystified. I, a fourteen-year-old, a freshman, a child with my entire life ahead of me, had to have a plan for the next five years within the next nine months? The purpose of this, he said, was to slim our choices down so that we may cater our every class, after school activity, and hobby to the universities we were planning to attend, further catapulting us one step closer to being professional actors and actresses. This was not the only experience I had like this. High school for me was not about enjoying the obscure experience I had chosen for myself. Instead, it was about preparing myself for a future I wasn’t even so sure that I wanted. The six hours of homework I did each night was all for my future. Sacrificing any free time to monologue rehearsal, only for a teacher to tell me I wasn’t living up to their standards just for my future. Isolating myself because friendships were increasingly difficult to foster when everyone saw you as competition, for my future. And after all was said and done, those looking from the outside only spoke of their jealousy, for they saw me working with Grammy-winning musicians, professionals in the industry and those with stellar expertise.
This is not to say that my experience was all bad. It was the good that kept me there. I would be pushed further and further over the red line and just when I was ready to quit, a flash of hope would overcome me until I fell back into complacency. I took a class on the British accent. I did workshops with one of the cast members of Gossip Girl. I met people who had shattered the world of dance, voice, film and writing. Many of my classmates attend some of the finest institutions for performing arts in the world. I’m not saying the school is completely wrong for everyone, but I’m saying it was completely, without-a-doubt wrong for me.
I’m lucky I made it out of that school alive. There were times that I didn’t think I would. I was scared of disappointing my parents and teachers if I didn’t make a future for myself in the arts. But I was scared for my life’s future happiness if I did. There was not a plan that led to me being here at UF today, nor was there a plan that I saw myself making it to graduation. I have sadly lost all passion for theatre that I had at the start of high school, but I made it. I survived.
I didn’t write this to play the victim or to make readers pity me. I just wanted to spread awareness for my story and to serve as a lesson: things are not always as they appear. The ideals that look the most glamourous from the outside can be teeming with toxicity. Don’t envy those with lives different than your own, because you don’t know what they are going through. As a closing note, I encourage you to always treat those around you with kindness and empathy. You may not know what they are going through, but you can be the light that guides them home to safety.