On How Much Is Out There (it’s a lot) by Stella Pfahler

It’s around that time for us at SOTA, the curious period of time after winter break when us students are caught in a dry spell as to three-day weekends. Some of us have started to lament the numerous AP classes and tutoring sessions we signed on for, and classes have really kicked in, for the juniors especially. This is the time when grades really do matter, even more than before. Along with this pressure, we’ve begun to tentatively attend college fairs, sign up for testing sessions, and taken the first steps to the college search at large. It’s equal parts daunting and exciting, the first taste of a soon-to-be-real future and a world of opportunity.

This new reality has prompted excited discussion in the junior class about our ambitions and plans for the future. We talk a lot about where in particular we’d like to pursue our higher education. Many of us feel like staying in California would be too close to home, and some say the same about neighboring states like Oregon. Similarly, some kids worry about going to school in New York or the northeastern region in general, but still feel obligated to pursue schooling there- isn’t that too far? How will I live on my own? The financial burden of going to school out-of-state- and so far away- weighs heavy.

So why not compromise, I ask? There’s a whole United States between just the coasts. Although it might not be the best idea to set your sights on Kansas State, there are plenty of reputable Southwestern and Southern schools of every variety to consider, as well as hundreds of outstanding Midwestern institutions. My peers and family members alike dismiss this. The widespread belief seems to be that you have a choice between Californian state colleges and over expensive liberal arts schools in Connecticut.

Aren’t those places you mentioned all racist and backwards? Do you really want to be somewhere where you have to drive? Why go to school outside of a city? These are some of the questions posed by my fellow students in addition to, well, every San Franciscan who knows I’ll begin the application process soon. There is a strange current of exclusionism that dominates our city. I reject the idea that the coasts are the only “worthwhile” places to pursue an education or establish oneself as an artist and community member. That’s ridiculous and robs us liberal-bubble-livers of whole worlds of opportunity- worlds that may include (gasp!) views that differ from ours.

Of course, I understand that there’s reasons for universities being where they are. Coastal cities have historically been places of exchange. Many universities are located where the colonies were first established, and so are much older, prestigious, and well-respected than those dotting the rural United States and Western regions. There are exponentially more artistic and intellectual opportunities in a city like New York City than in, say, Charleston or Santa Fe or Birmingham, that much is obvious.

In November of last year I spent several days in the great town of Nashville. Although awash with a strange capitalist music scene, and chock full of drunken bachelorette party attendees, the city has my heart in a way that few places do. I know that many creative writers, after taking a whirlwind tour of New Orleans, feel the same about that city.

The point is that there’s no reason to reject something or somewhere just because of the way you think you’re supposed to feel about it. I’m sure that many people reading this post will be nervous parents unsure of sending their child to an arts high school, and will be leaning toward more academic institutions like Lowell High School. If you remember that you have more options than you think, and are never stuck, you might just find your Nashville!

Stella Pfahler, class of 2019

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