There are no shortcuts in life

Writing to my niece Isabele as she entered high school in April caused me to reflect on my own high school years — achievements aside, a person’s character is what matters most over time.

To Isa,

I vaguely remember a few days of my experience going into high school many years ago now.

I remember it was very hot, I was accompanied by my mom, and that I felt as nervous as excited.

I got accepted into an honors school after passing a rigorous exam, but didn’t feel sure how I could possibly maintain the minimum average each year to stay in the honors school. Its reputation for ejecting students who couldn’t was well known. Expectations of me were a bit high.

It was a different era. We had no smartphones then, no tablets or computers and the Internet was just a pipe-dream project in some college lab stitched by messy wires. Access to knowledge outside of our school networks, books and new friends were limited at best. We relied on our teachers.

I suspect you feel just as excited as nervous, like me before.

You feel nervous about your new honors program’s rigor, the caliber of your new teachers and the anticipated homework that you feel may drown you. You wonder how you might be able to make it all work with your other interests like basketball or other sports. You wonder if your program will prepare you enough for college in a few years, or if you meet new friends, what will they be like?

Don’t fret — these feelings are all normal!

I went on to complete high school, college of course and then entered the workforce. I immigrated to the U.S. with your mom and your grandparents.

Times changed. The Internet became bigger, PCs became mainstream, smartphones and tablets arrived. Robots, artificial intelligence and self-driving cars are the new projects in labs today. Access to new forms of media on social and digital are so pervasive today that they are shaping our institutions and society in ways its inventors didn’t dream, or predict.

But despite all these changes, the biggest surprise to me has been the friendships and relations with high school friends who, through many years, are still friends with me today. Imagine remaining friends with someone for 30+ years!

We don’t now often talk about our days in Biology or Chemistry. We instead talk about how good or bad certain friends were or turned out to be, how more honest or dishonest some became, what decisions or shortcuts others took in life.

In other words, achievements aside, a person’s character was what mattered most over time.

I wish you all the best in your coming program, study hard of course as much as you reasonably can, and remain steadfast in the values your mom and dad have instilled in you — you’re going to need them. Good luck!

-Uncle Gino