Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond


When I was a freshman in high school, we were shepherded into the auditorium one day to convince us why we a) shouldn't drop out of school, and b) should actually try, should put forth some degree of effort to succeed. Now, I didn't need any convincing. Earlier, in grade school -- at a time when I feel like most kids should have still liked school -- one of the class troublemakers had taken a highly official class poll when the teacher had been called out of the room: who actually likes school?

I was one of two who had raised my hand, purely on instinct. I was shocked.

(The second, another girl, had advanced to Regionals in the Spelling Bee that year.)

So in our high school auditorium, I was the choir that the program was preaching to.

But there was one part of the program that was slightly interesting, if only for the visual it presented. They called ten random volunteers up on stage and lined them all up. "Imagine these ten people join a club next week, at the beginning of their freshman year." I don't remember if they specified a club. Let's say fencing, because I've always wanted to learn fencing. Also, fencing = awesome. "These ten people are all going to join fencing. They represent all of you, 100% of freshman joining some club or team."

Then, they had three of them step back. "Only 70% of you will still be in that club by October."

Two more stepped back. "Only 50% of you will still be fencing by Christmas break."

Two more stepped back. "Only three out of ten of you, 30%, will still be fencing at the beginning of your sophomore year."

"And what about by senior year? That's a long ways away. Let's pick one of you at random." A boy holding his baseball cap, a defiant nod to the no-hats dress code policy.

"By senior year, you start taking on a leadership role. You'll help out with the club, even become its president, or be team captain of your fencing squad." Now it's a team? Whatever. "But that will be less than 10% of you. We just can't cut this young man into pieces to show it."

(That's only on average, though, of course. Some of my friends and classmates were captain of Varsity Golf, president of Speech team, and first chair cello, all at the same time. W00t, go us, right?)

"So, why is this important? If you step up and take a leadership role in a club or team, your college applications will stand out from the crowd. It'll make you look great when you're applying to your dream school." Sigh. You're not allowed to screw up in high school, because your life will be ruined.

But they were all talking about college . . . no one mentioned life. Leadership roles in high school (and, let's be honest, college) do so much more than help you get into your dream school. It's a trial run for how to deal with things that come up when you invariably lead new organizations as an adult. When you have to make decisions that impact other people, in the real world. When you have some semblance of power, that you're actually expected to use, even if you still feel like you're faking your way through your entire career.

Turns out, all the months as president of my high school women's rights group (which was awesome, thank you very much) was actually preparing me for life. Who knew.