June 15, 2018, marked the end of one of the most influential experiences I have had in my 15 years on Earth, and the conclusion of three of the most meaningful years of my life. That was the day I graduated Santa Barbara Middle School. In many ways, SBMS shaped who I am today, as a student and a friend.
The SBMS community has countless sayings that help guide students through their time there. I feel the only way to fully honor their teachings is to use the sayings as the foundation for this article.
Beginnings are important.
At the beginning of every year at SBMS, the teachers and faculty choose a theme that we reflect on throughout the year. This year, the theme was “Where There Be Dragons: Curiosity, Courage, and Change.” It proved frighteningly prophetic for our year of “dragons,” as fires and mudslides bore down on our community, and we had to fight physically and emotionally.
Though the fire and mudslides threatened to tear our community apart, at SBMS, fires — specifically campfire — bring us together. You see, outdoor expeditions are a unique aspect of SBMS. Every year, the whole school takes breaks from the classroom to go on biking and camping trips. While the rides and daily challenges build our physical and inner strength, the campfires each night build our strength as a community. Every night, we gather around, huddling in close against the cold. The campfire begins with a question, such as, “What will you remember from this year?” or “What skill would you like to develop?” and “What would you like to see more of in the world?”
We sing, read poetry, and tell stories. But the most impactful thing about these campfires is the intimacy that we share. We honor and acknowledge each other, sharing from the heart. And it’s one small but important way we seize the day.
At SBMS, we take pride in seizing the day. On every trip, the faculty ensures that every day is filled with activity. When we arrive at the campsite, we get straight to work setting up our tents. Each day, we go on a different bike ride, between 15 and 50 miles. We all help and support each other in climbing the toughest hills and finishing the ride.
The end-of-year trips are often the most challenging. This was certainly true of my last: the Oregon Trip, notorious for sweltering days, freezing nights, endless hills, and mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds. I’m not going to lie. I was nervous about this one. It was to be my biggest, most difficult trip. To my surprise, however, it was one of the best.
Every turn held a new challenge, a new mountain I had to climb. Sometimes these mountains were gravel-streaked hills I had to power my way up. Other times, they were mental mountains I could not push through using only brute strength. One of those was the dreaded 50-Mile Ride. As I rode the dusty, gravelly uphill stretches several miles long, the dragons of my mind would get the better of me. Legs burning, back sweating, the sun beating down upon my brow, I would begin to doubt myself. Thoughts like, “I’m too weak” and “I’m too slow” began fluttering through my head. And I found that, as I told myself these things, they would become true. So the real challenge, I discovered, wasn’t beating the hill itself. It was beating the thoughts and doubts that came along with it. I learned to replace them with positive ones. When I heard “I’m too weak,” I replied with, “Pace yourself.” When I heard “I’m too slow,” I replied with, “Take your time.” I did things slowly and methodically, and eventually began enjoying myself.
These trips helped us not only hone and develop skills and gain physical strength but also gain mental and emotional strength, teaching us to never give up, no matter how hard things get. And most important, we created unforgettable memories with friends along the way.
Go with gratitude.
Before I came to middle school, I was terrified of the bike trips. I had barely ridden my bike and had never gone camping. I thought I would be quite literally left in the dust. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The community took me in and made sure I wasn’t left behind.
SBMS has changed me in more ways than one. Before, I was just an introverted little 6th grader. I only had a couple of real friends and tried my best to stay out of the spotlight. Looking back on it, I was kind of a loner.
Now, I am more extroverted. I have learned to unapologetically be myself. I used to shuffle down the hallways, looking for at least one person to talk to. Now, I skip and dance to music in the halls, holding my head up high. That transformation was possible because of SBMS.
This past year has probably been the most difficult year of my life, given the dragons faced by our community. Through all the pain and hardship, there has been one constant for me, in addition to my own family: my Santa Barbara Middle School family. I have been able to lean on this community like the great pillar it is. Whenever I was feeling down, I would talk to my friends and my teachers. When I felt lost, this school and its community were there to guide me home. We faced the dragons with courage and found gifts in the change.
We have a saying at SBMS that has been especially relevant this past year, one that shows unparalleled gratitude and respect. From me to SBMS:
“Wow. Thank you. I love you.”