Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on MSA’s literary arts blog, curated by junior and senior literary arts students.
After navigating the 2020-2021 school year with grace, we have finally reached the end of our road as juniors. Only two weeks are left for us here, and even less for our seniors. This is my second to last blog post in this style; next year, we will move on to monthly literary reviews, and a whole new group of talented writers will elevate the blogspace each week. In spite of the sorrow I feel at the prospect of not seeing the literary seniors’ faces around campus, my heart swells when I remember that an entire class of gifted artists will fill the empty seats around me. I wanted to start an advice series for upcoming juniors, but, as you can tell, I only got one post in, two if you count the one I originally wrote about applications/auditions. I am likely to continue this series on Rise, our digital school newspaper; however, I want to make a comprehensive list of my personal must-knows for incoming juniors anyway. A handful of these may only be applicable to literary students, but most of them can be universal to all students enrolling in MSA. If anything here does not feel like it does not serve you or your journey, I invite you to ignore me completely, as long as you consider my words.
BE CERTAIN TO BRING…
Before we dive into the heavier stuff, I want to leave you with a list of items I recommend bringing. If you missed it, I posted a blog specifically about what you need/might want for your dorm and bathroom. Here’s a link to it! https://blog.msabrookhaven.org/literary/2021/03/24/advice-for-rising-juniors-invest-in-your-space/
- An umbrella, and a raincoat! You would be surprised by how many students here don’t own either of those things and are forced to walk through a downpour. Check the weather app before you leave your dorm for class, and for safe measure, keep your umbrella in an accessible section of your backpack.
- Band-Aids and over-the-counter medications approved by the school. You’re allowed to have things like Benadryl and ibuprofen in your dorm, though these are usually available at the nurse’s station. It’s great for when you wake up with a headache in the middle of the night studying, and when you finally return from walking around the pollen-covered campus in spring.
- Snacks! It’s always fun to grab a bite to eat with friends, but try not to spend all of your money going out. At the beginning of each week, run by Dollar General and Walmart, and stock up on your favorites. You’ll be glad to have them when curfew hits, and you can’t leave your suite.
EXPERIENCE THIS FOR YOURSELF
I am going to confidently take a chance by saying that at least one current or former student has taken time out of both of your days to air their grievances about the school. I cannot stress this enough: those dramatized stories are a miniscule perspective compared to the thousands of students who have come through this school and adored their experiences here. MSA is a unique, special place where you have freedoms and opportunities that you will not have at any other high school in the state. You will not have the privilege of exploring your artistic abilities under dedicated mentors alongside equally talented and invested students if you let this talk steal your opportunity of attending here. I promise you, if MSA was anything less than an excellent place for cultivating knowledge and creativity, the people telling you these things would have chosen to leave by now.
With the sheer volume of students who have entered the front door of the SLC as a junior and walked across the stage at graduation, there are bound to be a multitude of varying perspectives. You have the right to find your own truth about MSA and experience it for yourself, not through the eyes of others. Come with an open mind, and don’t waste your energy seeking out negative things that you yourself have yet to encounter. Let the excitement you felt when you opened your acceptance letter and the elation of meeting your future peers during new student day overturn any low whispers that have instilled doubt in you. I promise, you’ll be better for it.
Mississippi School of the Arts is an ideal environment for growth and self-discovery. As you’ll hear many people say, you will not walk out of this place the same you entered it, and we mean this as a positive thing. When you’re in an environment like this, where nobody is watching over your shoulder to make sure you fulfill your obligations and responsibilities, you gain a new sense of self through the independence you are granted. You’re free to experiment with your style and explore who you really are, not just the watered down version of yourself you had to present to survive socially at your old school.
If you’re like me, bearing witness to constant evolution may make you feel obligated to change yourself to fit in with what other people are trying out. It’s quite ironic, isn’t it? Remember that you don’t have to change who you are to grow into the best version of yourself. Don’t feel like you owe anybody a drastic shift in attitude or appearance just because you’re attending a fine arts school, but don’t be afraid to open yourself up to the possibility of change. You’re still a teenager, and you have the rest of your life to figure out who you are and what you wish to pursue in life, so don’t feel like you have to rush change or like you need to maintain a façade of who you are for the rest of high school.
EMBRACE THE WORKLOAD
Yes, you will have an array of freedoms here that you do not have in a typical high school, but it’s still a school. If you are under the impression that this is simply a getaway from your parents’ house, you are mistaken. Each student who has come here under the guise that they will not have to work as hard has left disappointed. You still need to graduate and pass your core academic classes, in addition to your arts discipline ones. The same standards of typical secondary schools are implemented here, and you are expected to complete your work in a timely manner. There are consequences for slacking off, in the form of study hour and disciplinary action, and expecting to be exempt from these repercussions would be ignorant.
Now, let’s talk about discipline classes. If you are a perfect artist, you don’t need to be at MSA. This is a place for creatives to grow into themselves and fulfill their potential. You have to be willing to dedicate yourself to the development of your work, which means stepping outside of your comfort zone, accepting constructive criticism from your educators and peers, and not quitting when you are faced with challenges in your course. I was incredibly insecure about my writing before I came here; I did not want to share it with people, and the idea of workshopping it terrified me. I chose to trust my mentor and the process despite my worries, and now, six months later, I find myself thrilled to sit at the conference table with my fellow writers and receive their feedback.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
On the note of embracing your department’s curriculum, I have to say this: eagerly take advantage of all the opportunities MSA presents you with. If you take shortcuts on your assignments or bring forth work that you want praise for rather than work that could be aided from the feedback you receive, you are cheating yourself out of growth. Every prompt given to you is crafted with intention and teaches you distinct lessons about the writing process. Honoring the assignment will only make you a better writer, even if you are not interested in the mentor text or the content of the prompt.
As a junior literary student, you are given the privilege of having your own weekly blog. At times, you won’t feel motivated to write something new, or you will have trouble finding a compelling story to pursue, but I promise, it’s always worth it to honor your blog deadlines. My favorite journalism/nonfiction pieces have come from blogs I hurriedly wrote on Tuesday night; several months after I posted my second blog, where I describe colors using senses other than sight, I randomly decided to develop it into a flash fiction piece. Personally, I consider it one of my better short fiction works. You never know what will come of these 400–600 word posts. Plus, a few years down the road, you’ll look at them fondly, as they capture the essence of the writer you were in the early stages of your journey.
The first few weeks after your initial arrival are some of the hardest, in my opinion. If you’re like me and did not attend any of the camps, chances are you have yet to form any genuine connections yet. I got in the habit of going straight to my room after class and skipping the awkwardness of deciding who to sit with at dinner, trading a hot meal for a bowl of ramen. It may seem inevitable for those who are too introverted to initiate conversation, but you’ve got to do your best to avoid this. I came out of it once I stopped limiting my friendship to those residing in my hometown, and after that, everything seemed to fall into place. Sure, my conversations with students here did not flow the smoothest, but honestly, when do they ever? You have to push past your discomfort so you and the people who will eventually become your best friends won’t be (figuratively) stuck laying alone in your dorm.
Allow me to reassure you that your fellow upcoming juniors are just as unsure and nervous as you are; some are just better at hiding than others. You’re all overly concerned with how people are perceiving you and walking on unsteady feet, but it is in that feeling that you will connect with one another. People want to find friends just as much as you do, and I swear, they’ll be so appreciative of you for joining them at lunch or sitting in the empty seat beside them in class.
If some time has passed, you’ve made a few friends, and you’re battling with the urge to lock yourself away from the world, I recommend going for a walk, whether it be around campus or to one of the many stores in downtown Brookhaven. There are a multitude of thrift stores, wonderful restaurants, shops to indulge your sweet tooth, and some beautiful places to pause and catch your breath after the whirlwind that is moving to a new place. Appreciate the scenery of the campus while you can; when you stop to take it all in, you’ll be amazed at how much you miss while running from class to class or burying your head in your phone to avoid making eye contact with the person strolling beside you on the sidewalk.
Well, friends, I believe this is all I have for you. This will be the last time I speak directly to you, and I hope from reading my blog, you have gained something valuable. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to share my voice with you, and juniors, I’m excited to see where your blogs take you. I will be tuning in every Wednesday that aligns with your posting schedule! MSA is what you make of it, and I trust you all to attentively nurture beauty during your time here.
Until we meet again,