Jonny’s Big Break

Jonathan Watt, Opinion Editor

Between the time it’s taken me to start writing this and the time I actually started writing this, I’ve scrolled through 6 Spotify playlists and watched a total of 33 Youtube videos (I counted in my history). It has been two hours.

I guess it’s just hard to write about something that is seemingly so abstract. That abstract thing that I avoid so fervently is myself. While from the outside, writing about another person is simple; you highlight their most prominent traits and bring them out, capturing their essence in summary.

At risk of sounding cliche’, writing about myself is always such a daunting task and I hate it. If you talk at length about how much you’ve grown over the past 4 years, you can sound vain. If you give too much attention to your flaws, you may sound pitiful and your ethos (AP English peeps, where you at?) is damaged. And that’s why instead of talking about myself, I’ll start off by talking a little about those around me.

There’s a large pool of people I could name as big influences. I was born in Tennessee, spent my childhood in suburban Ohio, had a three-year stay in the Pocono Mountains, and finally moved to my favorite place so far, Ames. Looking back, however, two of the key figures in my life were Fr. Gabriel and Fr. Athanasy from St. Tikhon’s Monastery in South Canaan, PA.

Over the three-year period I spent there, I experienced loneliness that I never want to experience again; I was homeschooled since the schools in the area had proven to be less than satisfactory after my fourth grade year. My lack of social contact as a result of my rural homeschooling drove me towards my computer and away from the world. I was in need of an intervention.

However, my solace came in the form of these two monks. With their huge beards and long black robes, someone might have looked at them and seen wise, but certainly cranky and unsociable old men. That is, until Fr. Athanasy would come up to me and make me laugh with a dirty joke, much to the dismay of his aide.

Fr. Gabriel, while an enthusiastic personality, was like my therapist. I could have told him anything; he was a gentle and cheerful guide. “Jonathan, you’re 11 going on 40,” was one of his favorite go-to lines. At the time, I saw this as a huge compliment. Now, I see that he was just trying to get me to open up to my peers. Fr. Athanasy has since passed away, but I’m sure Fr. Gabriel is still helping those who experienced the same isolation I did.

Eventually, I moved away from Lackawanna County to where I am now, in Ames. Needless to say, leaving coal country was a welcome transition. As the months went by, my parents put me back in public school, where the phrase “11 going on 40” took on a more negative meaning.

Luckily, over the next few years, my newfound friendships became my new guides. Under their tutelage, I decided to start branching out. I joined Drama to work on my people skills, Swimming to learn what it’s like to be a part of a team (and a pretty good one), and AHS Shout, something I loved so much about our community. Ames High had so much to offer–some things I’d never seen or heard of, and some things that I never realized how much I needed in my life.

Without the opportunities Ames has given me, I don’t know where I’d be. I’m sure you hear that a lot from introspective seniors as their time in high school comes to an end, but it’s the honest truth. Maybe I’d be stuck in a dead-end coal mining town where prospects are low, or maybe I’d be back in Memphis, avoiding more than just the occasional B minus. I don’t know.

What’s important to me is this: I’ve never known of such a supportive, high-achieving, and competitive environment like the high school you and I attend. Sometimes, in all the turmoil of teenage life, we forget the opportunities we have in a place like this. So many students are becoming apathetic to their own personal needs–focusing only on their core classes, getting the highest GPA, and getting involve solely for the purpose of obtaining fake fulfillment. Your grades, your college decision–It’s all pointless unless you’ve used the short time you’ve had to grow into a well-rounded human being with a purpose. Whether you agree or not, you have to admit: at this time next year, in two years, three years maybe, you might be thinking exactly the same thing: “I wish I’d allowed myself to live.”

Thanks to my family, my friends, and my mentors, I know it’s a mantra that I’ll follow for as long as I possibly can. So: pay attention in class but don’t drown yourself in work, get involved in our community but be mindful of your intentions, and don’t stay up til 3 a.m. on a caffeinated binge to get your last little bit of homework done. You deserve a wholesome life, but first you need to allow yourself to open up to the possibility that life is more than just a number on a report.