Through all the moments I sat in class waiting for the bell to ring, studying relentlessly with thousands of flashcards spewed across my floor, the difficult tests, frustrating projects, and asthma attacks in gym class, I waited for 2019, my graduating year. “In 2019, I’ll be done with menial work and finally move on to greater things in college,” thought my 12-year-old self, who couldn’t even cook boxed mac and cheese.

The fact that people finished middle school and high school and were in college with independence and freedom completely boggled my naive brain. Hundreds of coming-of-age movies and sitcoms focus on the lives of high schoolers finding their way through the world by going on adventures and having exciting experiences that perfectly prepared them for adulthood. I fantasized what it was like to be 18 years old and independent and I counted down the days.

I did not even question where I would be as a graduating senior. I assumed I would have completed my Wilton public schooling education. I would be much older and wiser. I would have gone through the entire process of growing up and finally reached the first step of adulthood. I would be independent. I would feel accomplished and fulfilled. Most importantly, I would be ready to attend college.  

2019 represented a life-altering year that many years of wonder and anticipation were concentrated on, so when it arrived, reality struck. I am not like the methodically written coming-of-age characters. I feel completely confused and displaced. The characters were organized and prepared; they all knew exactly what they wanted to do and had clear paths leading to their goals. That is not my reality. In sitcoms, they seem to ignore the hours of studying, the standardized tests, fears, insecurities, and doubts. Innumerable amounts of paths lay ahead of me this year, making me so unsure about my future — so much so that I am taking a gap year before college.

For each of the last 18 years of my life, I’ve had a path to follow that never drastically differed from the last: I attended school, had summer vacation, then returned to school. Although I appreciate and love my experiences, it felt as though I was on a never-ending treadmill. School and maintaining grades consumed my every thought, and I never explored my true passions. This year is my first blank slate.

Through my hours of researching and talking to gap year alumni, I’ve learned about programs ranging from farming in Ireland to traveling around the world. Immersive experiences introduce new cultures and fascinating people in a way that is unparalleled. Differing from the typical classroom environment, challenges and lessons reveal themselves in natural ways, and the only real solution is to live and do.

In an affluent town like Wilton, it’s assumed to go straight to college from high school. Even when I told counselors and teachers there was no particular field of study that interested me and I would feel guilty spending thousands of dollars for a college course I had no true attachment with, a gap year was never introduced. It is common to ignore these doubts and follow the path already paved straight to college, but for some people, that path is not fitting.

In America, a beloved mantra is “time is money,” but I like to question that. This time off to explore the world, culture, and myself will only propel me forward and prepare me more for the future. 2019 is my first step into adulthood, and I am as ready as I’ll ever be for this unknown course.

Teena Moya is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.