The start of a new journey

Kaivallya Dasu

What is 12th class? More importantly, what does it symbolize, and what weight does it carry?

12th class is the end of an era and the start of a new one. It is when students finish their school years and move on to college or a job.

That is the position in which my friends and I – as well as thousands of other students across the country – find ourselves now. It’s a time when we look forward to the future with excitement and nervousness; take a breath of relief that we get a little break before going on; and cast a glance back at the years we spent in school.

I personally look back at my school years, spent in five different schools, with a mixture of confusion, nostalgia, relief, and gratitude. Not everyone has the same experiences, of course, and so I spoke to some friends about how they felt about finishing school and starting college. We’re all following slightly – or very – different paths from here, and we took different paths to get here. We converged to do our last two years of school, and now we diverge to different fields and places. Undoubtedly the same will keep happening: a pattern of trajectories converging and diverging, for the rest of our lives.

I asked students how they felt about finishing school, what the “board years” (9th to 12th, when we prepare for the 10th and 12th board exams) were like, and what they have learned.

“It’s been an intense few years,” one student told me. “There has been a lot of studying and a lot of preparation, and many assignments and exams.” This seems to be a common experience across curricula, especially as the last four years of schooling include the board exams and important entrance exams.

Every student I spoke to mentioned this: that the last few years of school are very hectic and often stressful. “You have to be able to manage a heavy school workload as well as prepare for college entrance exams and applications.” Many entrance exams that these students prepare for, such as the JEE, NEET, and CLAT, are highly competitive and disproportionately affect their chances at a dream college. This, combined with all the work required for regular school subjects, has forced us to learn how to handle stress and big workloads. The many deadlines we had to meet during 12th also helped us manage our time better. “These should be useful skills later on,” a student says. That seems like an understatement.

Besides the strictly academic side of matters, students have other takeaways from their “board years”. They say they learnt how to navigate the school landscape, from managing their schoolwork to participating in extracurricular activities to preparing for college.

They also say they learned how to handle friendships. “For a lot of us, the beginning of 11th means a group of friends scatter to different streams or schools. I learnt how to maintain old friendships with people I didn’t see every day anymore, while also making new friends,” one student said. “It’s not just your classmates, though. Sometimes you get to know your teachers. They help you with school, but they can also be people you enjoy talking to.” Several of my friends still stay in touch with previous teachers as with old friends. My 12th grade teachers have fond memories of our graduated seniors who contact them every now and then to catch up. I occasionally exchange book recommendations with my old English teacher. These are overlooked, unexpected, but rewarding friendships.

Another common refrain? Learning more about ourselves, and our abilities. “You learn to be more comfortable with yourself,” my friend told me. “Realistically, I expect that in the future I’ll also learn to be more confident in my decisions.”

The emerging consensus was that what students learn in school goes beyond the material in the textbooks. They say they learn how to manage friendships, how to navigate complicated bureaucratic systems (like exam coaching and school management), how to handle massive amounts of information, and how to schedule their time. They all hope to develop these skills.

Now, colleges and universities are slowly starting their terms. One by one we disperse to begin a new chapter of our lives. Students seem unsure of what to expect in the future, what skills they will learn and what experiences they will have. However, let’s cast a look backwards on the unexpected learning from school and the wonderful people – students and teachers – who we’ve met. Keeping that in mind, I think we’re ready to face the challenges that will be thrown our way and take all the learning we can.

The author is a first-year college student who went to school in Hyderabad and Mumbai. She is the author of one published fantasy novel, “Enchantress of Elektra”, and aspires to be a professional writer. She can be reached at kaivallyadasu@yahoo.com.