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Life is all about experiences.

The idea of post-secondary education can be daunting for many. It sure was (and still is) for me. From the small steps along the way to crossing the finish line with university applications, exams, and staying on top of it all with a smile on your face. Wait? A smile? Can what is potentially the most stressful time of a student’s high school journey be… smile-worthy?

Since I didn’t know the answer to that myself, I asked someone who did. And her answer wasn’t the most clear-cut yes or no. Her answer was that even though every journey is different, it is important to be honest with yourself and prioritize. Prioritize the stressful moments–the tests, the exams, the assignments, and the applications–, but also the fun moments–the memories made with your classmates, the new experiences with your friends, and even the days where you just need some time for yourself. Given her vast involvement in her school community as a former AP student, and her current unique journey at UofT as a Rotman Commerce student, I am grateful to have had the chance to speak with Alina Guo about the behind-the-scenes of the senior year of high school.

After chatting with Alina, I came to a few understandings about high school, the future, and even myself, which I’ll mention below.

First off, high school. High school is the place where a student develops their perception of the world by getting a taste of a variety of courses, and embarking on small adventures (that are usually the result of pure convenience and a “you’ll never get this chance again” mentality). But in doing so, there is a lot to balance. The workload can get overwhelming at times, and many times, I found myself feeling spread out too thin trying to “do it all.” This is where I bring in my first takeaway from Alina. The idea of equilibrium (no, not the physics, chem, or biological equilibriums, but the equilibrium of life). For the rest of your life, there will be phases where the work just seems endless, but the clock is ticking. Whatever that may be, it is important to pause and figure yourself out. Pacing yourself is vital in helping yourself successfully follow through in all that you try to accomplish.

Speaking of the accomplishments and the rest of your life, my next takeaway is that nothing is set in stone. I asked Alina “What if I’m not sure about my future pathway?” and she told me that change is inevitable, whether that be minor changes like switching from one class to another, or major changes! (Literally. Like changing your major from one ambitious academic discipline to another.) I feel like sometimes the pressure of “not falling behind” is exaggerated in the lives of many high school students, where we all achieve the same milestones at the same pace to not “fail” (what is failure, really?). But what’s overlooked is the idea of carving your own path, mostly because we all want to get into that one university (in the first go), get that degree, graduate, and go on to accomplish great things. Because of this, we forget to realize that it’s our life. And it doesn’t have to happen in that order or like that at all! There are many factors that contribute to success, and however you define success, determines which factors you should focus on. Not the other way around where you focus on certain aspects of your life only to realize that they probably aren’t the ones that fulfill your goals. That being said, it’s never too late to change your mind because, after all, nothing is set in stone until you want it to be (*takes a breath of empowerment*).

My final takeaway from talking with Alina is about myself. Actually, it was a general piece of advice that I adapted to myself to better apply the mentoring. And that advice was to figure out what works best for you to maximize the results of your efforts–your learning style, your study habits, and your mindset. I find that I’m a visual learner who learns by seeing examples before attempting challenges to determine patterns, and I grasp better through repetition. I tend to have a determined mindset (although sometimes the determination isn’t always present). But regardless of your environment, find the things that get you through the day and optimize those parts of yourself by discovering more and more. The learning never stops, and neither should you!

After connecting with Alina, the whole post-secondary life doesn’t seem so daunting anymore. I mean, life is all about experiences anyways, so I’m looking forward to making my own. Although many things are unclear to me right now, I am beginning to realize that taking things step-by-step will allow me to become a better version of myself everyday.

For my fellow high school students who are either still undecided about the future, nervous about senior year, or just here for the sake of being here, I know that I’m not going to stop trying to accomplish my goals (both short and long term), no matter how tedious the process may be. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let that fear prevent you from being your best.


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