To Fellow NFLSers,
I have always been skeptical about those who come to our school and share their experiences about their success. To claim to be successful seem to say one has finished his or her business in life, a very dire notion to me. For only 10 years have I graduated from NFLS, and thank heaven that in no way do I claim to be successful. I am only here writing to tell what I imagine the 18-year-old me would like to know.
You must know Olympiad competitions, math, computer, physics, chemistry, and biology. They were a big part of my life in NFLS. Since I was not patient enough to do math or physics, nor was I particularly interested in remembering all the weird names in biology, I chose chemistry. I did well at the provincial competition so I joined the provincial team to enter the national competition (the so-called winter camp), and I ended up earning a silver medal. Almost everyone around me thought that it was a great accomplishment, but I felt that it was a failure. My competitive instinct made me to think that being the second is no better than being the last. That thought worried me. For a long time, I had kept asking myself whether I truly enjoyed the subject or whether I simply liked winning competitions.
The difference is subtle but very important. From the competitions that seem as trivial as your final exams (yes, you will know that they are trivial ten years from now) to the ones that seem as grand as getting in a top school, these competitions, as well as the awards and honors that come with them, are set up by certain people to reward what they think is good, righteous, or significant. These people are smart people, for sure, and they are usually right in what they put you through, so that you can become an intelligent, industrious, kind, and independent human being. But smart people can make mistakes too, and when they do, they usually mess up pretty bad. Whether they are your parents, your teachers, or those who design college entrance exams, or those who sit on the recruitment committees in companies, when the question came down to you, they can never be as sure as you can be about what you should do with your life. Realizing that these smart people can make mistakes too will give you the assurance to restrain yourself from getting lost in the competitions they put you in (no matter how hard they try to convince you “it is good for you”) and the courage to follow your own intuition.
NFLS gives you the playground to follow your intuition. Be it the art festival, the foreign language festival, the soccer tournament, the basketball tournament, or any other school activities you might have now, I urge you, in your days at NFLS, to participate in these activities as much as you can. Through them, not only will you develop your personal characters, but also will you gain the important materials about yourself from which you start to search where you intuition leads and what your true calling is. Once you discover it, you will be willing to spend the extra hour and walk the extra mile to perfect an imperfection, to strive for excellence in what you are doing, and most importantly to enjoy what you are doing even when you are not winning any competitions.
Therefore, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of NFLS, I do not wish your life to be successful, only enjoyable.
Class of 2002.
PS. NFLS is short for Nanjing Foreign Language School, the name of my middle school. I have always felt particularly grateful for the education I have received there. This letter is written for the school newspaper, which now seeks contributions from alumni for the celebration of 50th school anniversary.