I was thirteen when I took my first breath underwater, slowly descending into the ocean on my first of many scuba dives. I was fascinated by the whole other world that lies beneath the surface. My father and I were admiring the vibrant sea life when we were approached by a nine-foot hammerhead shark. As I stared into its intense eyes a feeling of terror took over my entire body and I froze. Gradually, I built up the courage to proceed with my dive, as I had learned that I should be safe as long as I didn’t disturb the sharks in their natural habitat. With more scuba dives, came more shark encounters and that terror turned into a thrill.
Two years later, I took my first steps into American Heritage School – a prestigious and competitive private school. I was once again “swimming with the sharks” though this time the “sharks” were Patriots (our school mascot), the habitat a sprawling campus of grand brick buildings, and boy did I feel like I was “underwater.” The transition from public to private school felt just like that day of my first dive. I entered an abyss of different people, standards, and rules that I had never been exposed to. I was learning among the top students of Florida, which to me, felt like swimming with the top predators of the ocean. I knew I had a massive adjustment ahead of me. At first, shyness overcame me and once again, I froze: I was afraid to ask for help, and even the idea of approaching other students quickly led me to drown in my own anxiety. Being called on in class was brutal. Whether I knew the answer or not, my mind would go blank and my shaky voice could not produce any sound. I needed to remind myself that I swam with sharks scarier than the ones that sat in my algebra class.
As I emerged from the water after facing the king of the ocean in 2018, I was ecstatic that I accomplished such a feat. It taught me that life is about seeking and even embracing discomfort. By seeking discomfort, I do not mean constantly putting yourself in danger by fierce predators, but by allowing yourself to take risks and never holding back.
This thought process helped me move through those rough waters of freshman year at my new school. I was not sure where I belonged, but I knew that sinking was not an option. I began attending my teachers’ extra help sessions and studying twice as hard. It was not long before my dedication reflected on my grades; that feeling of accomplishment is incomparable. Bringing home A’s on a paper and seeing my parents excitement motivated me even more to keep working. They believed in me when I struggled to believe in myself.
As a thirteen year old jumping into an ocean where my life is supported by a regulator, oxygen tank, and a shark’s desire to eat me or not, I learned there is no time to waste in fear. This lesson and the confidence and pride in myself led me to reach my fullest potential academically and personally. Being able to swim with the sharks, stare into the unknown, and emerge from rough water makes me confident that I will be able to excel as I move forward into whatever abyss lies ahead.
Whimsical Water, a drawing by Hannah Stadtlander (grade 12)