Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Jan 2002, 10:51 a.m.

When I was but a lass, in my senior year…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

When I was but a lass, in my senior year of high school, I took Advanced Placement World Literature with Lynda Nahigian, and we had to perform a graduation requirement called the Senior Project. Each of us had to choose some specific topic, write a paper, do a project with a mentor, and make an oral presentation at the end of the whole shebang. Chu Guoy learned to cook her native ethnicity's cuisine, and had a feast to which she invited me and other friends. Micah Roy educated his peers about the plight of Christians in China. Bry'n Campbell directed a performance of a medley of songs from Rent. And I used e-mail and newsgroups to foment a grassroots campaign to get the US to pay its back dues to the United Nations.

Mine didn't turn out so well.

But I learned a lot. I learned, among other things, that conspiracy nuts abound on Usenet, and that it's really tough for one person to change a controversial foreign policy, and that government officials don't pay the most attention to e-mail, and that posting a lot on Usenet will get you a lot of spam.

(I imagine a Google Groups search for would turn up those appeals, if you're interested.)

The whole point of the Senior Project was to give an almost-graduate a taste of self-directed success and achievement. But the only self-directed part of the exercise was the project itself; we received plenty of direction and structure for the paper and the presentation. And even with the project, we had to keep a journal and a timesheet and I don't know what-all else. We had dittoes to fill out for everything. Self-direction means not having dittoes.

As for success...even though the Senior Project planners consciously valued process over product, I still feel unsure: did I do what I set out to do? I educated people about the problem of UN arrears, but as to whether I had even a butterfly effect on the eventual result -- it's impossible to tell.

Four years ago I was in the middle of this Senior Project business. And now I'm about to embark on a really self-directed project, viz., making a life for myself, sans dittoes, sans grades, sans safety net. And it'll be even harder to tell whether I'm succeeding.

People keep telling me to have self-confidence. And the Senior Project proposed to give each of us a little taste of success, a track record to give us that confidence in ourselves. But I can only feel proud of my success if I feel as though I did it myself, not as someone else assigned and structured it. I can only feel proud of my success if I feel as though I might have failed.

I will learn to trust myself to make goals and achieve them and make mistakes on the way and recover from them and learn from them. I know I'll learn all that. But it's just scary seeing this blank horizon and having to fill it myself for the first time in my life.