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Student Reflects on Experiences at UPrep

As part of our Student Life Blog Series, a senior looks back on his time at UPrep.

Senior Aidan M. shares how his theology of trying new activities helped shape him

I have always thought that it’s a worthy endeavor to try new activities once. Why? Why not. It is a simplistic theology, but it has worked for me. It’s something I started doing without noticing. I think it started when I tried pizza for the first time. Until fifth grade, I refused to try pizza. I remember loving it and regretting not trying it before. Maybe it sounds a little weird, but I don’t want to miss my next pizza—and I can say pretty confidently that I’m making the most of my time. Now that I’m a little older and can look back on my life, I noticed this belief I’ve carried for a long time. 

In seventh grade, I made the choice to take a stagecraft class because Ms. Wyatt made the theater sound so exciting the year before. I thought, “why not?” I have fond memories of throwing glass bottles into a metal bucket to make a door-unlocking sound. Probably one of the best choices I made at UPrep—as I learned of my love of theatre in that class.

In eighth grade, I took the class again. This time, my teachers made the mistake of letting us build big. We made an 8-ft. wide by 10-ft. long by 4-ft. high elevated platform shaped like a boat. It took Liam R. and I all semester to design the boat, including hours of afterschool time to get it ready for James and the Giant Peach, plus eight helping hands at the peak of its construction. I learned my love of taking raw materials, my brain, and time to create something I can touch, point at, and say, “We made this.” 

Aidan M. and Liam R. designed a boat-shaped platform in Stagecraft class for a Middle School musical.

During freshman year of Upper School, I learned 3D modeling for a history project. I used those skills in the play production that year. Now, I create procedural art using 3D modeling skills to keep in touch with my artistic side. 

Also during freshman year, I brazenly signed up for a professional cyber-security competition. I wanted to be the expert hacker. Who knows, maybe I was a young prodigy and I would instantly understand highly technical questions that were designed for a master’s student. Going into the weekend, I had really hyped myself up. I had sixty hours to solve as many problems as I could. I started smart and I started small, with a relatively trivial problem.

Sixty hours came and went. I did not solve the first problem, but I’m proud to admit that I failed. Sure, I came away from that weekend embarrassed and a little disappointed in myself. But those emotions led me to improve myself. The culture at these competitions is that the top scorers write up papers on their solutions to problems they deem worthy of further study. Through these community papers, I learned about buffer overflow attacks, SQL injections, bytecode reverse engineering, and more. I also learned the hacker culture: do’s-and-don’ts, inside jokes, and computer science history. It’s thanks to my first attempt, that willingness to try, that led to me learning a passion of mine. A passion that I will go to college for.

Sophomore year, I got out from backstage and acted in the musical. Mr. Fleming gave me a role, Lee Harvey Oswald in Assassins , and I poured my soul into it and acted my little heart out. I loved the experience and I fondly cherish these memories, but singing is not for me. You can love something the first time you do it, then never do it again.

Also in sophomore year, I joined Mock Trial club as a witness. The tournament was fun and an interesting experience for me. Then, I joined Mock Trial junior year as an attorney, which was a substantial change. Lawyers and computer scientists seem to be opposites to me. I think lawyers are more sociable, very hierarchical, rule-based, older, and very ambitious. I think of software engineering/computer science as very young, with a move-fast-and-break-things attitude and laid back. Of course, these are extreme generalizations. I do not want to be just an engineer. I am an engineer, but I want to show that I can be more than that. So, I acted as a defense attorney and was aggressively mediocre. I failed again. To be completely transparent, I had a tough time talking to strangers whose entire purpose was to judge me.

This mediocrity motivated me to come back senior year and put more effort into being successful. This school year’s competition preparation was rough, with plenty of long nights, frustrating feedback, and even some last-minute rewrites of the case. Finally, the district competition came, and I had a blast. Sure, I was nervous to present, yet something changed during the middle of the first case. I let go of my expectations and had fun with it. 

After our last round, all the teams logged in to the score report Zoom session. They started to count down the top eight of seventeen teams. We expected to get seventh or eighth. By expected, I mean hoped. We thought we did well, but not that well. They announced eighth. Not us. They announced seventh. Not us. They announced sixth. Not us. I stopped paying attention. Then, they announced University Prep: Emerald, number one. We won districts. We beat prior national champions. We were the best. That moment was exhilarating. All my hard work, all those late nights, all that anxiety and sleepiness was instantly worth it.

We went on to state. I did even better. I borderline perfected my closing argument. I got disgustingly good at taking the other teams opening and incorporating it into my closing. I used my brand of dry, sarcastic humor to make light of the prosecution’s argument. I had fun. And the raters must have noticed my enjoyment. I was nominated for best attorney at the state-level mock trial competition.

Aidan M., Henry B., Lucas S., Rohan R., and Latham B. with awards they made for each other at the end of Mock Trial season.

Despite this award, I’m never doing Mock Trial again. I am not going to be an attorney, a judge, a patent lawyer. I tried and discovered it’s not who I am. But I remember the lessons from the competition: have fun with my work, do not waste time being scared when you can focus on your confidence, and more. Everything I’ve tried has taught me something about myself that I wasn’t aware of. I know that I am very much an engineer. I have worked with computers for half my life, as I found my love for working with them very early. I’ve held an actual paid job as a software engineer, and I am going to college to learn more about computers. As I look back over the past 38 percent of my life—my time at UPrep—I’m glad for all the new experiences I was able to make and the lessons they have taught me.

Aidan M. is a senior. He’s looking forward to learning the piano during his LaunchPad intensive and plans to continue his studies in cybersecurity at college. 

Read more blogs in our Student Life Blog Series: Student ActivistGiving BackLeadership ConferenceA New Hobby, and Practicing Gratitude.

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