Rich Rewards: For best high school experience, get involved in extracurriculars

Letter to the Editor By: Jonathan Kuehner

As a senior rapidly approaching the end of my high school career, my mind is a perpetual tempest.  At night I wake up sweating or crying or with an emotional song I have not heard for four years stuck in my head.  During the day, questions haunt and harass me: have I made the right college choice? How can I keep in touch with my friends? And recently, is it OK that I never played sports in high school?  While these first two questions are beyond my ability to answer, the third is easily answerable: Yes, it is OK.  Sports have never been my idea of fun, and instead I have actively participated in choir, band, the Boy Scouts and theater.  To me, these things, particularly theater, have always been my favorite way to spend my time, use my talents and develop socially.  I am not suggesting that everyone should try out for the fall show, nor dissuading anyone from participating in athletics; I do feel however that every student should participate in some extracurricular activity.  Cedar Falls has a wealth of activities which are open to the student body: three choirs, two bands, an orchestra, a world renowned robotics team, a dance team, a fantastic drama program, a plethora of varsity and junior varsity sports, and a multitude of clubs and other extracurricular activities.  Beyond that, we live in an area which provides many activities and opportunities for involvement via churches, the university, the Rec Center and other community organizations.  There is no excuse for a student to not be involved, and I would encourage every one of my peers to find something to participate in.

I have many reasons for saying this, but they can all be condensed into three major points.  First, extracurriculars are a beneficial way to spend one’s time.  Being involved in an activity is a massive time commitment, but one worth the extra hours.  As much as I hate to say it, teenagers make stupid choices when bored. I am equally guilty of this, and I believe most of my peers will honestly admit they are too.  Being involved gets rid of all that time to be bored and forces students to spend their extra time working and resting.  This time commitment can be stressful at times, but that is more than offset by the joy received by participating, and good teachers understand that students are involved.  They will make allowances and be compassionate towards hardworking students who have chosen to spend their time outside of class improving themselves through extracurriculars.

Self-improvement brings me to my next point: extracurricular activities teach students skills which will benefit them for the rest of their lives and help them develop their abilities.  Using the theater as my personal example, I have learned practical skills through my six years of participation in school and community performances.  I will not dwell on communication or team work abilities because those are intimately connected with my final point, but know that these have been developed and fortified through my participation.  Theater has taught me other things as well: the ability to use tools to build and dismantle (though my crew heads will tell you my skills are still mediocre at best), the ability to be organized and manage my time wisely and the ability to follow instructions and take responsibility for both my successes and failures.  While every activity will not teach you the same skills, you will find that learning is deeply intertwined with any activity in which you choose to participate.  In addition, talents which you already possess are refined by the practice and feed-back you receive.  If you are a talented but unpracticed artist and you find that sometimes your art is beautiful and fitting to be displayed at the Louvre, but other times you would be embarrassed if it were displayed in a loo, join an art class or club.  Having time set aside to practice and to receive beneficial feedback from a supportive community of your peers, teachers and coaches is a fundamental part of any extracurricular activity and will make you a consistent artist or athlete who always performs at a higher level than others.

Finally, the community itself: I mentioned earlier communication and team work skills. Much like athletic, artistic or academic abilities, these skills have to be practiced to develop.  In order to practice these skills, one has to have others to work and communicate with; imaginary friends and mirrors just don’t cut it.  Outside of my activities, the only people I really see are my classmates, and while I have some talkative classes, classrooms are not a good environment for social development, nor should they be.  The ultimate goal in the classroom is to teach information, not social abilities, and therefore they are not an ideal environment for fostering these skills.  Activities outside of the classroom, or even in-class extracurriculars (music and art classes), are a far better place to learn these skills.  In an extracurricular, one is compelled to be around people with similar interests and common goals.  This means that you will have to work together with others and talk to them beyond idle chatter.  Meaningful conversation creates real connection with others and will help you to connect with coworkers, friends and even significant others throughout your life.  As you work towards a common goal you also learn the abilities of teamwork, leadership and following instructions, whatever is necessary for the performance to go flawlessly or your team to go to State or your gallery to look beautiful. The individual becomes less important, and you become a part of something greater, making you greater in return. Communication and teamwork are essential parts of life, and those who are able to communicate and work cooperatively are more successful than their peers.  In this way, extracurriculars will benefit you more than almost any other thing you will do in your high school career.

In the end, it does not matter what you participate in, only that you participate.  No activity is inherently better than any other, but the wide variety readily available in this area means that every student can find an activity which fits his or her interests and talents and will help each to become a better version of themselves.  For those who do not yet know what their interests or talents are, my advice is to try something, anything.  But what if I hate it, and it makes me miserable?  Drop it.  Try something else.  Even the experience of being in an activity you dislike can be beneficial and can direct you toward your real interests.  Extracurricular activities make your life and time more enjoyable, teach valuable abilities and will be beneficial to you in the long run.  My activities have made my high school experience worthwhile and have taught me more about the world, my abilities and myself than any article could express. I encourage every one of my peers to be involved.  You won’t regret the experience.

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