The journey to success

Lorrin Johnson and Amanda Roberts

Numbers do not define you

The clock has just struck 2 a.m. You approach your computer excitedly, yet hesitantly. You have been waiting all night—no, your entire life— for this moment. Your true worth is about to be displayed on a computer screen; your future will soon be determined by an exhibit of fluorescent lights.
In just a few seconds, your SAT scores will be revealed.
Finally acquiring the confidence needed to enter your password and face the all-knowing numbers that will serve as the crystal ball to your future, you make the last click that will finally open up your score report.
Your only reaction is shock. Not just at the seemingly lackluster display of tiny numbers upon the screen—you had expected something a little more ornate; it is determining your future, after all—but at the value of the numbers displayed on the screen. You add the numbers up in your head, check them on your calculator, ask Siri. But in the end, the overall score is always the same. The value always falls short of your expected score. You feel like you have failed.
Many believe that the pressures of high school have led students to rely too heavily on “numbers” to determine their self-worth and capacity to succeed. Students find themselves so preoccupied with SAT scores and GPAs that they are unable to adjust their goals after they have deemed themselves “failures.”
But success doesn’t have to be determined by one’s test scores or grade point average. In fact, many will argue that numbers do not define one’s capacity for success at all.
“My high school GPA was a 2.7, while my college GPA was a 3.7,” counselor Dorothy Hay said. “Life is going to go on whether you graduate with a 1.5 or a 3.5. You’re still going to graduate, and you still have to figure out your next step.”
Countless students have a hard time transitioning into high school and handling a large work load, and this is especially true for Liberty students, who must balance eight classes as freshmen. GPAs can plummet before a year of high school has even been completed, a discouraging phenomenon for many students. For others, like Griffin Cherry, an initially low GPA can be used for motivation to improve.
“My GPA was pretty low the first semester of freshman year, but it’s gone up considerably since then,” Cherry said. “I’m not really worried about that because I know that colleges like to see that growing trend.”
If you are still not convinced that numbers do not define one’s ability to reach success, then consider this fact provided by the Houston Chronicle: President George W. Bush got a 1206 on the SAT, and President Bill Clinton got a 1032 on the 1600-point scale.
If two of the arguably most powerful men in the world did not obtain perfect SAT scores, then you probably don’t have to either to be “successful.” Getting a perfect score is certainly something to be commended, but if you fall short of your SAT or GPA goal, it’s important to remember that numbers aren’t necessarily the only things that will determine how successful you are.

Success is different for everyone

College: it’s all every upperclassmen seems to talk about this time of year. Some people are struggling to choose between ten different colleges that they were accepted into; others are debating whether or not to even go to college.
The good news is, college is only one option for students after high school. And for those Liberty students who do choose to pursue higher education after graduation, it’s reassuring that there are college fits for almost everyone intending to enroll.
One’s interpretation of success is important to take into consideration when choosing a path after high school. There is something for all students to do after donning the cap and gown, but it depends on what is important to them. Acknowledging one’s passions is often the first step to achieving personal success.
“You can’t half try hard at everything. You have to find a few things that you care passionately about and go for them,” junior Jordan Hemmen said. “Those are the things that you’re going to excel at—the things you’re passionate about.”
Hemmen has been committed to play soccer at Virginia Tech since her sophomore year. Soccer is her passion, and she has directed all of her efforts towards pursuing a collegiate career.
“Some people are better than me at school, but the time that other students spend on AP classes I spend at practice,” Hemmen said. “Outside of practice, I continue working hard to improve my shooting and other skills.”
For other students, academics are the gateway to personal success. Senior Akielly Hu will be attending Yale in the fall, after a long four years of pushing herself academically.
“I think my parents, the culture I grew up in, and the people I surround myself with, have put a lot of focus on academic excellence,” Hu said.
Even though she worked hard following her academic passions, Hu recognizes that the only real path to success is through happiness, and that influenced her decision in choosing what to do post-high school.
“I think there is always this idea that Ivy League schools are super elitist and people who go there just have a lot of money,” Hu said. “I visited a lot of schools last year. Some of them were Ivy League, some weren’t, and I liked Yale the best by far. It was the culture and the students there that made me choose to go there.”
Other students choose to not attend college at all, pursuing success in a passion completely unrelated to higher education.
French teacher Sarah Duran can think of two students that stand out to her as being unique in their passions, and that she knows pursued those passions after high school.
“I had a student my first year of teaching that told me ‘I don’t need this class because I’m going to be a plumber,’” Duran said. “He went on and became a plumber, and he probably makes way more money than I do!”
Not only did Duran instruct a future plumber, but a future clown was also enrolled in her class.
“The same year, I had a student who would sit in the back of the class, and he was really flexible. One day he told me he was going to join the circus, and of course I didn’t believe him,” Duran said. “I later had his little sister in my class, and she informed me that he in fact did join the circus upon graduating high school.”
Whether your passions lie in the realm of circus performance, or you wish to become a heart surgeon, success is different for everyone. Finding what you are passionate about, and developing your own path to success is often considered the best way to find it.

Success can change

Although it may seem like most of your teachers were born into the profession, many of them held jobs far different prior to taking up teaching. Many of these jobs may have provided higher salaries, but they did not offer the senses of success they desired.
Most Liberty students know math teacher Thomas Kennedy as an average teacher-genius. But many do not realize that he once used his math skills in a different field.
“I worked for General Dynamics as an electrical engineer”, Kennedy said. “I did digital design and I coded circuits. It was a really interesting work environment.”
Though he earned a large salary and was skilled at his job, Kennedy did not find the success he imagined for himself in his career as an engineer. So he decided to change his career completely.
“What I wanted was to be challenged, and I initially decided on engineering because it was the hardest major offered at my school,” Kennedy said. “But It wasn’t hard at all for me. Teaching is significantly more challenging. That was one of the things I measured success by and one of the reasons I quit electrical engineering.”
To some, teaching may seem like an easy job. To Kennedy, however, it stretches him and is something that brings him more happiness and success than his career as an engineer did.
“I could work three hours a week and they would be like ‘wow you’re amazing. You’re doing great work,’ and here I do like 55 hours a week and I feel like I’m just scraping by,” Kennedy said. “I actually feel like I’m good at my job now instead of people just telling me that I was.”
Kennedy isn’t the only teacher at Liberty who has changed careers. Physics teacher Eleanor Schneider once worked as a chemical engineer. She too discovered a new sense of success in teaching.
“I met Mr. Buchli when we worked together on getting the solar panel for Liberty, and he started inviting me on physics field trips, where I realized ‘you know, there’s some cool stuff I could do in education,’” Schneider said.
It wasn’t that Schneider didn’t feel successful in her old job. Rather, she found a new kind of success in teaching.
“I really liked my old jobs; they were fun,” Schneider said. “But in my third year here, I’m feeling more successful. It has taken some time, and I suspect that I will continue to get to feel more successful as I become more confident.”
The concept that success can change is often daunting for students, who think that they need to have their whole lives planned out before heading off to college.
“The average number of careers for people in the United States is eight in their lifetime, and those are sometimes completely unrelated careers,” Hay said. “I think if a student is trying to decide between several careers, they should pick which one they want to do first. You don’t have to do them all at once, just pick the most interesting one.”
The reality of success is that it is open to interpretation, it can change, and it is defined by the person who seeks to achieve it. Success isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.