Anxiety, Rankings, Perception, and Transparency — Thoughts of a high school senior.


Some of you know me as Ali: The guy who edited the lip dub, the computer guy, or the sarcastic, ugly, vulgar (in terms of language) guy with nice glasses. Let’s throw all that out the window and try a reintroduction for just a few seconds.

Forget I exist, forget everything you know about me.

Hello, I’m ali (@helloimali). I like technology, videography, pretty things, cute things, tumblr, sarcasm, humor and nice humans. I dislike the road test, country music, expensive products, and mean humans. I’m graduating high school in June and will be joining the class of 2021 at Penn State.

I sound like a pretty normal guy, right? But you’re only scratching the surface (dramatic, I know).

So what’s beneath the surface, the things that don’t get a facebook post. What about the things that give me anxiety? The things that scare me? The things that worry me every night? The people I love, the people I hate, the people I simply don’t care about? What about my dark side, my light side, my humorous side, my “unpopular opinions” side?

What a lot of people, myself included, tend to forget is that there’s always more to a singular human than the tweets and posts we assign to them. We usually base the personalities of anonymous people on their social media profiles. The things we allow people to base their impressions of us are the things we publically share with them. Why would we tell the public about the things that make us tick? Why would we want to shatter that perfect image we worked so hard to create? We crave perfection in perception, but when does it become blurred? Allow me to introduce, and then shatter, my perfect image.

I’ll be attending Penn State University, graduating in 2021, and majoring in Computer Engineering.

I’ve made myself sound like a smart guy with my life planned out. But guidance — hell, any adult that has experience with the college process — has told us that no one has anything planned out. So where’s the reality?

I will most likely be attending Penn State University in Erie, PA for 2 years and transferring into the main campus after 2 years (due to the 2+2 program). I say most likely because I was put on the waitlist for Rutgers. If I’m accepted into Rutgers, I will go there instead, simply for the in-state tuition. Any college I wanted to go to, I was either rejected, placed into an undesired campus, put in the wrong major/school, or waitlisted.

NYU, Purdue, Fordham, TCNJ, and UMaryland rejected me.

Virginia Tech, Stony Brook, and CU Boulder put me in a major I did not want to pursue (granted, SBU put me in a Pre-Eng program).

Penn State and UMass put me in a different campus (I wanted to attend University Park and Amherst, but was put in Erie and Dartmouth, respectively).

Rutgers New Brunswick and Drexel waitlisted me.

NJIT, Ramapo, and Temple accepted me.

I was told that the computer engineering program at Temple and Ramapo weren’t as reputable as some of the other schools I had gotten into. I don’t want to switch out of my major between years and it would be difficult to switch majors at engineering schools anyway. Between NJIT, UMass, and Penn State, I ended up picking Penn State because I felt that it would have the most opportunities for me to flourish.

Don’t get me wrong, Penn State, regardless of the campus, is an amazing set of schools and I’m blessed to be able to attend the campus at Erie, which also holds a reputable Engineering course, and then later transfer into University Park due to the 2+2 program, a program of which more than half of the University Park students were enrolled in. Am I happy with my college choices? They weren’t ideal or what I had planned for, but really, I have no real idea right now. I’m keeping an open mind for Erie and look forward towards the future, but there are a few things that rip me apart. It hurts me that all my friends are going to these great schools with the major they wanted and I can’t even compete with them, because they succeeded in the college process and I felt like I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been so proud of them. University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Cornell, Northeastern, Drexel, Fordham and Rutgers- they’re all going to do great things and I’m so proud of them. They deserve this, they worked hard for this, and I hope they do well. However, another part of me is filled with this horrid anxiety.

What are they going to think of me? What if they laugh at me? I’m not as good as them. What if I end up not being on the same level as them? What if they don’t want to be friends anymore? What if people see that I failed at the college process? Why didn’t I do that well? Why couldn’t I achieve that much? Why didn’t I get accepted into that school?

What if and why.

These thoughts haunted me throughout my senior year. I remember in October, someone announced an acceptance on facebook. As I commented “Congratulations!” all I thought was “I haven’t even applied yet.”

Realistically, I know that some of my friends won’t leave me because of the college I choose, but I also know that some of them will. I know that some of my friends will remain close and others will not. To those that leave (probably because of distance, but anything really), I’m sorry, that is both of our faults, but I wish you success on your journey. Hopefully we meet again! To those that deliberately leave, whether it’s because of the college I attend, or just in general, it was fun while it lasted. Thank you for being here for the time being. To those that will support me throughout my college years, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I promise I’ll make you proud, as you’ve made me.

Although that may be the realistic take on things, unfortunately the brain doesn’t work realistically, it works in conjunction with realism. Logically, I know that in 6 months, most people will forget I even exist. But my mind also likes to whisper *they’ll remember forever* and *everyone will be disappointed in you*. These skewed perceptions clouded my vision and planted seeds of anxiety that sprouted into trees of self-doubt. The self-doubt turned me into someone who wanted any project, whether it be film or technological, to be perfect. That includes the highlands lip dub, the highlands yearbook ad, and an automatic name shortening algorithm for the yearbook. Because of that need for perfection, my sleep took a hit. I slept less, a lot less, in order to do more. I wanted people to be proud of me. In the future, I want people to say “Hey, I went to school with that kid!”. I wanted the student body to look at the work we did in 5 years and say “I remember this! This was so cool!”, especially with the lip dub. I remember, the extreme anxiety I felt when showing the lip dub for the first time in the auditorium. I was visually shaking both on stage and in my seat (I’m sure people that were close enough can verify). I remember the first bit of laughter I heard in the auditorium when we aired it for the first time and the relief I felt. I remember the joy I felt when people wanted it to play a second time. Thank you. The cheering, the love, the support, thank you for all of that.

Another thing I want to touch on, a facebook group was born (by students) in mid-December for the seniors in our school, to announce the colleges that they will be attending. As of April 22nd, it has about 120 posts in a group of 257. To further my self-inflicted anxiety, for most of the posts I saw in the group, I quickly copied and pasted the name of the college, put a space, and then typed “ranking”, to see how I would compare, and almost always, it would feel like I was worthless compared to the schools they committed to. That is no fault of the group. I refuse to blame the group for my feelings. I could have easily just left the group, so this is 100% my fault and my own self infliction. But ignoring the thoughts and feelings won’t solve anything, because I know that someone else in that group does the same thing, and because I know that, I’m going to sit here and tell them that, hey, you’re not the only one, a lot of others do the same thing. Calm down, it’ll be fine, trust me.

This blog/article/post is being posted with my “Penn State 21'!” post, so my hands are sweating from the anxiety of people knowing and judging. But I know that I’ll feel a lot better about college if people know, because for me, transparency has always been the best way. If I couldn’t complete an assignment, I’d email my teacher, explain why, and get it done as soon as I could. Being transparent sets realistic expectations but allows you to set goals and achieve higher successes. Being transparent means I’m real, not a fake, glorified, facebook profile.

Having enough of this ridiculous false reality, I decided to go against the idea of a perfect image and to instead push for reality. Because of this push, Snapchat has turned into my favorite platform, mainly for its “stories” functionality. A story is a photo or 10-second video that stays up for 24 hours and then deletes itself. Of course, people can still screenshot the photo or record the video, but for the most part, snapchat can detect both, but I digress. On my stories, say a year ago, I decided that, instead of posting typical happy photos at the beach, I would be transparent. I would post my happy days and my sad days. I would speak about topics that I wanted to speak about, regardless about how controversial they were. I yelled and complained about how horrible I felt. I spoke about the disappointment and the sadness I felt when I was rejected from all my top colleges. I complained and ranted about things I found ridiculous. At some points throughout the year, I literally cried on snapchat.

And the response was incredible.

“Your snapchats honestly make my day”
“Hey dude, are you ok?”
“Dudeee oh my god, I’m laughing so hard, I needed this”

My friends (audience? I mean, I added more and more people that barely know me.) enjoyed my snapchat stories so much. And it was because it was real, it was transparent, and it reflected my reality, not a glorification of my life. This is why I believe that transparency is the best option (for me). Ever since my switch to transparency, I’ve found my confidence returning. Granted, sometimes it runs away, but it’s there most of the time.

We live in a time where we can sit on the toilet and figure out someone’s entire life. But the entire life we see, is just the life they’ve shown us. Remember, what you see isn’t the full reality, there’s more to a “Penn state 21'” post.

If you made it this far, nothing but love for you. You’ve taken interest in me, the way I speak, the way I think, and I appreciate that. Thank you.

Thank you for reading and good luck.

Also, a huge thanks to Neil Varghese and Elaine Zheng for reading this article 100 times and fixing some errors I made + making sure I made sense.