Last month, I graduated from high school.
The week of my graduation, I decided to spend some time and visit all the buildings within the Milton Academy campus. I walked up to the fourth floor to my first English classroom and then to my last. I remembered my first C in a Megablunders quiz and how I was told that I’d be fine. I recalled the complaints that I made while reading Paradise Lost, and the excitement when I started to enjoy adult novels like the History of Love and The Magus. I appreciated the lack of breath as I walked up to the math classrooms for the last time. I thought to all the incompetent math teachers and learning nothing in class, but also remembered how they were so passionate about what they taught. I took time to visit the places that had meaning: the wheel room where I threw my first pot, the tables that were blocked off in the library (wink wink), the orchestra room where all the rehearsals that I skipped took place, and the darkly lit back stage where my evenings were wasted (and enjoyed). Of course, each of the dorms had emotional value. From the pool tables in the brother dorm to the common area in everyone’s favorite boy dorm where I would play weekly Truth or Dares, and to the missing dart board in the frat dorm that I definitely did not steal, I regretted not enjoying those moments completely. There was the girl dorm that was once our rival in dodgeball, but housed some of my closest friends who share a similar hatred for ignorance, and the other one that once kept me safe when mine couldn't. (My own dorm and the time spent in there deserves more than a quick sentence so more will come in another time.)
A lot of my friends teased me for being so sentimental for leaving high school. But, if high school taught me anything, it is that you’ll miss it when its no longer routine. I guess I knew what to do, because I’ve done it before (the leaving). Choosing to attend boarding school has been a life-changing decision, not only because of the academic challenge but also because I had to leave a somewhat exciting life behind--and to be able to call freshmen year exciting has to have meaning. Before Milton Academy was Seoul, a place where I learned about all the things you shouldn’t talk about in front of your parents, where all my firsts happened, and where all the people who shared those moments were at. It was only after leaving and barely returning once a year, that I have loved the city like never before. For the last three summers, my days here have been filled with visits to places that used to be ‘mine.'
Going to the school that I used to attend, walking past the cafes that I used to study at, and taking part in the evenings that I used to love, each summer makes me feel more like an outsider. As I pass through the hallways of my former school, I can hear the distant giggles of my freshmen self on the old couches in study hall, taking Photo Booth pictures. I could nearly recall the combination to my locker that I once hid my friend’s spiked eggnog, or vaguely remember where his locker that I once decorated for Sadie Hawkins was at. I could almost smell the clean floors of the cafeteria where I hung out after school, doing everything but homework. There were the cafes that I once occupied with friends who are no longer friends with each other. The stories that were told in those afternoons were everyones’ firsts, times that can’t be relived.
It is a strange feeling to walk through a place you used to know: somewhere you once belonged. It’s as if everything has changed but you, as if you were on pause while the whole world kept on growing up. I will never be as young as the last time I was at that place. The emotions I felt then, are those of a younger, more carefree, self. As a high school graduate, I think my future will hold more of these moments of nostalgia and the feeling of misplacement. With the busy life of college and internships and jobs, there will be another Seoul and a different kind of Milton Academy. In those new places (and those of the past) I hope to take it all in as I did before, hopefully with less regret each time.