Boarding School Student Reflects on Life Lessons at High School

Midland: A Place Worth Leaving Home For

How Robin '24 learned to be curious, embrace failure, and enjoy hard work

Spring 2023

A Midland tradition is for every graduating senior to share a short talk, on a topic of their choice, with the whole community in the historic Midland chapel building. These chapel talks are a rite of passage, and many students use the time to reflect on their time as a student. Robin ’24 connected her senior chapel with the Saint Patrick’s Day holiday and shared three principles she learned during her time as a Midland student. Thanks to Robin for allowing us to share this beautifully written piece! 

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. If you turn back time a few years, you’d find mini me in a frenzy, chasing trails of green glitter and gold chocolate coins. I spent weeks building elaborate leprechaun traps in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, I’d catch the imaginary green man in his tophat and tux. I’d be rich! Chocolate for life. But year after year, my hard work turned to tatters of taped-up cardboard and crumpled paper, with no leprechaun pets. You would think I’d give up. But the thrill was in devising new and terrible ways to catch leprechauns in their mischief, not in the catching itself.

Kind of like the Midland FODs, huh? I’m talking Tristan’s bowling ball-sized flashlight, or the story that used to keep me up at night of Charlotte sitting on her front porch watching us through binoculars. 

If that analogy tracks, Midland would be the leprechaun trap. Think about it: Midland’s rolling hills turn magically green in March and are sparkled with golden flowers at the feet of rainbows…You feel like you can’t leave once you get in… And you dedicate so much time and energy to building it up that the prize at the end—the life skills, the flower crown, the diploma—seem unattainable. Is it attainable? – Do Midland grads leave with every core competency checked and the portrait fulfilled? I will not be graduating with my life figured out, but I’ve learned that that’s alright.

The first lesson I learned when leprechaun trapping and living at Midland is that I must live with uncertainty. If I knew for certain I wouldn’t catch any leprechauns, I wouldn’t have had fun trying. If I knew the way down Grass Mountain my freshman year, I wouldn’t have gotten lost in the most beautiful field of poppies or learned to read a map. I came to Midland because otherwise I would be sitting in a class with forty other kids wondering what I could’ve been doing here; throwing a plate in ceramics, hiking with friends, riding a horse… I wasn’t sure how much I’d learn here or who I’d become, but I wanted to find out. From the other side of the Sierra and four years later, I see that my uncertainty stemmed not from a fear of change, but from a curiosity for the new. But what if it didn’t work out?

Student rock climbing

Robin climbing during the Stewards trip to Joshua Tree National Park

Principle Number Two. Conquer your fear of failure. My first rock climb, I made it four feet off the ground before my legs turned to jello. I kept shaking uncontrollably until my friend’s mom came over to talk me down. She asked, “when you fly in a plane, are you scared to look down” huh? “When you fly in a plane, does the elevation freak you out” well, no “Then you aren’t afraid of heights,” the mom said, “Robin, you’re afraid of falling.” 

You aren’t afraid of heights, you’re afraid of falling. That simple. I had the support system and the strength to climb up; I just didn’t trust myself not to look stupid.

My fear of falling came from a fear of failing away from the rock. I did horse sport all of Freshman year because riding was the one thing I knew I was good at. I spent all of my free time doing homework; school being my other skill. I let new friends come to me instead of reaching out, even though I was lonely. Looking around the circle of camp chairs at our Covid-safe porch group check-ins, I saw all smiling faces, not one missing their parents. I longed for sleepovers with old friends, my mom’s freshly baked cookies, my real bed. I was so focused on what I didn’t have, I was blind to what Midland gave to me. Slowly exposing myself to new experiences over the past two years at Midland has shown me how much fun I could’ve been having all along. 

I began testing taller and harder climbs — the reddish hill past the dam, the fire crags, Joshua Tree, the Miter — and although every time I go up I still think “what if the rope snags, what if the belayer trips? Don’t. Look. Down.” It turns out I’m capable of a heck of a lot more than I let myself try. 

My junior year, I learned to surf. I’ve never felt freer than when sailing down the barrel of a wave. And while it landed me in the ER last week, I just won’t sit as far forward on the board next time. I’ve learned to prize the cuts and bruises as battle scars because they mean I’m putting myself out there, getting better. I made my Senior Project to build a bed platform and pull-out kitchen in a truck bed despite never having taken a Woodworking class or been car camping a day in my life. I’m working a pack station this summer leading chains of mules through the Sierra with wranglers twice my age and ten times the riding experience. And I’m terrified. But my fear of failing has met its match: my thirst for learning. The more I learn, the less I look like a fool, and also the less I care what I look like. Slowly exposing yourself to the allergen of fear has the potential to open doors you never saw before. 

Midland student learning to surf on the Central Coast

I’d like to put a brief disclaimer in here: I’m not asking someone with allergies to stick their head in a bucket of shellfish, or someone who doesn’t know how to swim to lap the Channel Islands in a half-holiday. I’m suggesting that pushing yourself in risk-controlled environments is a beneficial, even enjoyable, experience. 

This brings us to the third and final principle: Learn to enjoy work. If you can’t, I think you’ll find it pretty miserable here. I definitely wasn’t happy to scrub hair dye stains from the bathroom floor the third Sunday in a row or get soaked spraying gray slop goop from the dishouse drain, but I laughed at my sub-optimal predicament anyway. I’ve learned to collect little moments of perfection.

  • The sunlight perfectly framing the hobbit-hole shed outside.
  • Blasting between bubbles of Work Period music: Amy Winehouse echoing off the roof of Main, Taylor Swift riding a gorilla cart down to Lower Yard with my prefectees, the epicenter of Dishouse Nirvana.
  • The gooey sweet of fresh-baked cookies and the clatter of applause following the announcement “Save your forks; there’s dessert!”

Instead of commiserating about our restricted freedom, free time, or funding, either work to change what you don’t enjoy or work to enjoy what you can’t change. The only thing making this education worth it while you’re a student is to have fun. Enjoy the work, and you won’t be as frustrated when your leprechaun traps are destroyed or the Sunday cleaning gets messy the very next day. 

Try to make Midland a place worth leaving home for. Make the most memories you can with your friends and your dogs, your staff and your teachers. Trace the contours of the ridges and dips on Grass Mountain because there will come the time for you to leave this place. You’ll be left with flashes of orange and purple, a ringing bell, a red-roofed mailroom, snippets of birdsong.

A part of me has mourned each of my friends’ chapels this year as their final birdsong, each a personalized goodbye. And now it’s my turn. My first and last chapel. And it’s nearly done. (I know you’re thinking: finally). I ask you to do now what I wasted two years, half my Midland experience, trying to find; what fills you up, what makes you happy. Live with uncertainty, unafraid of failure, and you’ll enjoy the work.

Although the hills here are much older and wiser, you have been deemed worthy of a brain capable of connecting dots in the sky and seeing constellations. Of drawing your own conclusions about life. Of drawing your own life. It’s up to you to live it, so cover yourself in sawdust carving yourself a spoon, get thrashed by the Jalama waves until you learn to stand, grab a pair of binoculars and learn the names of the birds you’ve been listening to since September. Bake that batch of cookies, maybe treat yourself to one tonight. Find what sets your soul on fire, and do it no matter how scary it seems. Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch that leprechaun.

Robin’s photo of the view from the soccer field toward Grass Mountain

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