Summer provides a natural break between school years that can give students an opportunity to reinvent themselves; to bring a new self to a new grade. “It’s not (as much of) a big deal as it would be if you changed in the middle of the year,” said freshman Calliope Askins. Returning to school differently than you left it is normalized and often encouraged.
Tim Samba, as he begins his junior year, is approaching it in a very different manner from previous years. “Last year, I was really frigid … I would barely talk to people,” he said. This year, he’s made a conscious choice to be more social at school. “I decided that I’m going to start putting effort into all these things; I’m going to take the initiative more,” he said. Samba attributes this year’s increased social confidence to a job he took as a server over the summer, which required him to talk to strangers every day. “(I thought it was) terrifying … like how I usually treat the beginning of each school year,” he said. The job forced Samba into becoming comfortable in that type of environment, and he was able to take his new perspective into junior year.
Fellow junior Eva Patrick also brings a new mindset with her as the rigor of her classes increases. “I struggled academically the last two years of high school, (but) this year I felt more momentum behind me,” she said. She’s entered this year with commitments to complete work on time and improve her focus in the classroom. The switch was motivated both by self-reflection and by necessity, as the shift from sophomore to junior year carries with it more academic expectations for her. “You (now) have to start worrying about college, which is a big pressure to start being productive,” Patrick said.
Samba also feels that being a junior changes the way he acts around Berkeley High School. “I have more of a responsibility to introduce (underclassmen) to all these spaces … and (to) be a welcoming member of school,” he said. Samba now has the option to take IB classes, which he said forces him into a more studious mindset.
As a freshman, Askins experiences a lot of messaging telling her to change her style and herself. “It’s from a lot of different places… (some say) ‘you should change some things up’ and some say ‘just adopt a whole new personality,’” she said. Askins has felt this pressure to change from parents, teachers, and peers, sometimes developing new styles in direct response to their comments.
“A signature part of my style was that I’d wear a headband … and a blue vest, (until a kid) said to me, ‘I hate the way you dress.’… I don’t think it affected me that much, but I noticed that next year I didn’t … wear the blue vest at all,” she said. Askins, who describes herself as not caring much for change, says much of the new self she presents each year is generated unintentionally, or subconsciously. “I didn’t end up buying a lot of new things, but at the same time I somehow did,” she said.
Samba thinks that this back-to-school consumerism is fueled by stress. “Personal insecurity, the desire to fit in… (and people) reflecting on the mistakes they made last year… (are) major stressors,” he said.
Summers off frequently result in Askins re-evaluating her relationships at school. “If I spent an entire summer going places … I feel differently about (my) friends … (and) if I’m just staying inside with my family the whole time, I end up losing my patience for people a bit,” she said.
Patrick, who analogized the school year to the mythos of the hero’s journey, thinks that good change cannot happen without intentionality. “The ‘new year, new you’ mentality really has to be a thing that you asked for … you have to choose it; it feels awful (otherwise),” she said. She used the SMART acronym, for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely, to describe the type of goals she sets for herself. Patrick also makes sure that she cares about how she’s changing herself. “If you have an emotional attachment to that goal, you’re more likely to do it,” she said.
Askins continues to be grateful that the beginning of a new year allows her to change in a natural way. “I think it’s a really powerful thing to be able to reinvent yourself… (and) I think it’s really cool how you can just do that (as the year starts),” she said.