Choosing Resilience: An Alumnus's Reflections on the First Semester of College

By Ayub Tahlil, Boston Prep Class of 2018, Bowdoin College Class of 2022

It’s 10:05 AM on a Tuesday. I’m a freshman at Bowdoin College, and I’m sitting in my first-year seminar, Dystopias of America. As the professor reviews the syllabus, I learn that we will be reading a novel every week, with an essay to be completed every weekend. I reread the syllabus to make sure I’ve heard correctly. At Boston Prep, I had always been seen as a strong writer, and our teachers had certainly challenged us, but this level of work is something I’ve never seen before. Suddenly, I feel like I have 50 things to do but time only to do 25 of them. For a moment, I want to quit, to curl up and take a nap, but luckily, my gut won’t let me do so.

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Beginning in sixth grade, Boston Prep instilled within me values and habits to ensure my success at Bowdoin College. From the heartbreaking demerits to the long days, the structures and supports at Boston Prep helped bring an end to many of my bad habits and replace them with good ones. The idea of college was ever-present at Boston Prep. Entering the building every morning to see banners of colleges that I could one day attend (minus, of course, the all-women’s colleges like Barnard and Wellesley) excited sixth grade me. From watching seniors announce their college of choice to biannual visits to college campuses, Boston Prep made me eager to go off to college even before I had begun high school. My drive was amplified after our eighth-grade overnight college field trip, which brought us to Williams, Amherst, and other western Massachusetts colleges. Exposure to such prestigious schools elevated my personal goals.

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Going into high school, I had high ambitions. I wasn’t perfect, but I worked hard to make sure I didn’t threaten my chances of going to college. I did well academically, climbed the ranks in extracurriculars, and used my summers effectively to build a robust application. I was incredibly lucky to have access to a college-oriented secondary education that aligned with my aspirations in life. I was immersed in a rigorous atmosphere, offering me rich experiences from AP courses to diving deep into the Roman culture and the Latin language. I was surrounded by devoted faculty and an endless amount of resources. I was able to develop a wide range of skills that were transferable to an elite liberal arts education.

When the day I’ve been preparing for all my life came, moving into college, it was a breathtaking moment. I am proud and grateful to say that I walked onto Bowdoin’s campus confidently. I stepped into this new chapter with excitement for the new people I would meet and the new classes I would take, from Investigating Earth to Microeconomics. Yes, there would challenges ahead of me, like that Dystopias of America course, but I brought excitement and a sense of self-assurance to each and every one of those challenges. Yes, it’s true. After the shock wore off, I was excited by the tremendous amount of reading and writing in my first-year seminar. I knew this class would elevate my skills immensely, as writing and reading of that magnitude does.

Looking back at my first semester, I realize now how seamless many parts of my transition from high school to college were. Thanks to my experiences at Boston Prep, I was doing so many things naturally in my classes that set me up for success - not being afraid to ask questions, doing assignments regularly, and frequently studying. Not all high schools build these habits among their students, but luckily Boston Prep helped teach me these tools. And when challenges arose, I had a strong network to fall back on. I check in regularly with Mr. Canto, my College & Alumni Counselor at Boston Prep, and I have regular conversations with my high school advisor and the teachers I was closest with at Boston Prep. No matter the time of day or day of the week, they are there to support me and to help me find supports on campus when things get difficult.

While I didn’t always understand why we had to do the things we had to do in middle school and high school, and some of Boston Prep’s systems and methods even seemed futile in the moment, having completed my first semester of college, I can say now that Boston Prep indeed prepared me and my peers for success. I can firmly say after just a brief time at college that what Boston Prep is doing for students is working. Yes, as expected, I have met challenges while at Bowdoin, but the tools Boston Prep helped me build enabled me to combat these challenges.

For years, I’ve loved reading dystopian novels to transport myself to a new world with new circumstances and choices. As life progresses, new circumstances and choices arise, and one has the choice to be apathetic or resilient. With this Dystopias of America class being a symbol for what growth looks like, I can confidently say that challenges are conquered by being steadfast and relying on the networks you’ve built in life. It’s like we said every week, from sixth grade through senior year, as we linked hands at community meeting: “Effort determines success.” Everyone has a network, and I am so lucky to have Boston Prep as a part of mine as I work to create a life full of success.