Rigor or Relaxation: How to Spend Summer

Opinions  /  by Kevin Xiao '19, Dev Chhokra '19, and Eric Zhu '20  /  May 28, 2017

Katie Davis '18 / The Lawrence

Reflect and Chill:

June 1 marks a fresh start for Lawrentians: summer vacation. A much deserved break, summer vacation rewards students’ accomplishments and hard work in the classroom, on the sports fields, and around campus throughout the year. In a way, summer vacation is a catharsis from a year full of stress, rocky relationships, and the traditional ups and downs of adolescence.

How to spend summer vacation is an ongoing debate—some choose to spend their summers studying and working hard, while others feel that it is best to lie back and relax. While neither way will be perfect, the latter embodies the best intentions of summer: being stress-free time to promote reflection, creativity, and youth through relaxation, instead of work.

As Lawrentians, we have become so entirely immersed in work that we have lost track of important aspects of life. Focused on perfectly analyzing Shakespeare’s Othello, we forget our true purpose: to become better people, true scholars, and the future leaders of the world. While content-based learning is important, the life skills we gain from reflection is what we apply to the rest of our lives. Reflection can only occur at a time of little stress, higher energy, and an open mind—best embodied by summertime relaxation. So why chase away the fleeting time of summer vacation studying if we can, instead, spend that time looking back on our year to better understand ourselves? In the future, there is no guarantee of a summer vacation, so why not spend the days of sun-kissed hair, summer daze, and picnics by the meadow how they are supposed to be spent: relaxing?

At a school as demanding academically, athletically, and socially as Lawrenceville, this rare opportunity for rest cannot be wasted by adding an even greater burden on students’ shoulders. Taking the time to step back from an incessant schedule that often forces students to compromise sleep, health, and youth, summer should be a time students look forward to, not three months they dread. The stigma associated with summer break and what we should do during summer break often ends up creating more stress for students. In a vicious brawl for the most prestigious camps, summer schools, internships, and residencies, no teenager should have to expend his or her supposed rest time and energy to worry about getting ahead. While some attribute this toxic environment to the high expectations colleges have of students, this cycle results not from the development of mature and hardened young adults, but instead from the burning out of countless high-potential students who have succumbed to the crushing weight of too much responsibility too soon.

Parents, administrators, and teachers like to say that students have nine months of hard work and three months for their own leisure. Nothing could be further from the truth. This misconception that students act in defiance of colleges’ wishes seems to be only an expedient justification for adults to heap limitless work upon us powerless students. Rather than acclimating teenagers to the struggles they will inevitably face in adulthood, the preposterous expectation of simultaneously productive and fun summers overburdens students and forces them to sacrifice their health and recreation in the hopes of attaining an unachievable ideal.

More Than a Resume:

It’s 2 AM, and the glare of your computer shines in your eyes, the sole source of light in the room. You carefully scroll through the pages of your essay: one, two, three… They go on forever. You move onto the final page. Just one more to go. All you need is to cite a source to finish the last point. Sluggishly, you switch tabs and begin perusing a research article. One page down, two pages. Just to check, you scroll down to the bottom and find to your dismay that the PDF is more than two hundred pages long. Even at that point, with your eyes watering uncontrollably from the screen and your exhaustion, you can’t help but marvel that someone out there has willingly made this her life’s work. Surely you could never.

As Lawrentians, more often than not, we tend to reflect on our workload and sigh. We spend sleepless nights toiling away, often pausing to reflect why we signed up for this school in the first place. However, as much as we tend to think that the work we do is needlessly rigorous, we can’t help but acknowledge the spark of interest that ignites when we’re each faced with certain subjects. Whether it may be that one research paper or that lab, everyone has experienced the spark that comes through learning. Even if just for a second, the moment when a topic you once thought tedious became enjoyable surely held meaning for you. After all, this is the purpose of our education: We learn so that we may be better equipped with knowledge to choose our own future.

However, too many Lawrentians throw this gift—this spark of interest—away over the course of an idle summer break. To most students, Lawrenceville’s inherent rigor is in and of itself reason enough to treat summer as a break. What we often forget is that time spent away from school doesn’t automatically equate to rest. Instead, it can offer a chance to pursue our deeper passions.

Rather than spending summer in a suspended state, spend your summer capitalizing on whatever it is you care about. What you once thought was interesting could very easily lead to an internship or potentially even a job. Most high schoolers enter college completely unaware of their passions and are even more befuddled when faced with the prospect of devoting one’s life to something. Summer is the ideal time to answer these questions. Given three months of free, unrestricted time, expand on your horizons and experience new challenges.

As diverse as Lawrenceville’s course offerings may be, they pale in comparison to the opportunities afforded in the real world. At some point we’ll all have to venture out into the world, and experience will only help facilitate that daunting transition. Go out, get a job; the experiences you’ll find will undoubtedly benefit you in both the short and long run.

In the same way you will finish skimming the 200-page article and realize that it is actually kind of interesting, maybe working academically for the rest of your life—or even just this summer—is actually feasible. You might even be able to finish the paper before 3 AM. Or maybe you’ll just turn in your 24-hour pass. Yeah, you’ll probably do that.