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What I Learned in Summer School: A Lesson in Values

“I could do it. Pretty sure I could really make it out,” I thought to myself while eyeing the bright, red light of the exit sign visible through the classroom window.

I was sitting in a World Geography class, daydreaming about all of the things I could be doing instead of taking this summer school class. While my friends were off enjoying the sun and seeing places I’d only be able to read about in the stained pages of my geography textbook, I was stuck taking a class I could’ve waited to until my freshman year to take.

But here I was, fighting to stay awake in the front row of a grimy classroom.

Throughout the first days, I worked to remind myself of why I was taking the summer courses: to get ahead and take classes I actually wanted to take. But by the second week, any hints of optimism I’d cultivated had withered.

After a particularly long day, I felt like I’d had enough. While sitting on our living room floor surrounded by a halo of notes and annotated maps, I decried the “tragedy” that was this experience.

“I’m going crazy,” I complained to my mom.

“Why did we think summer courses was a good idea? This is horrible. I could’ve been happy.”

That’s when she told me something that even today has shifted the way I approach my free time.

“The thing about boredom is that it makes you realize what things you’re putting more value in,” she said. “So, if you’re really that unhappy, maybe you should question what you’re choosing to value.”

In the moment, I met this comment with an exasperated sigh and a begrudging admission that she just might be on to something. For the next few weeks of the summer class, I sat wondering about where my priorities were. I used to love exploring the world however I could, whether it was in the pages of a book or firsthand.

But years of school had made me tired. Tired of focusing on the grades, tired of learning things I didn’t care about.

And that’s when my mom’s words really hit me. The thing about summer boredom is that it helps us question what we really value and where we’re devoting our time and energy.

I’d gotten so focused on doing things for the sake of doing, rather than figuring out the things that really excited me and using the time I had to invest in those.

Now, this in no way means I developed a burning passion to become a cartographer. But my experience in that summer school class did make me think more about trying to figure out how I value spending my time and doing more of that. It might even include traveling to some of the places I learned about.

Jesse Sparks is a junior in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University studying Journalism and African American Studies. He can be contacted at @JesseASparks on Twitter.

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