Take a Break from Your Break

My experience of the Summer Innovation Program at Stuyvesant.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If I were to assume one thing about the students holding this newspaper in their hands, it'd be that they've batted an uninterested eye toward the opportunities and programs served up to them on a silver platter. E-mails, speeches, and even the simple suggestion slide in and out of view without so much as a shrug from them. The sure’s, I guess’s, and I don't know’s stack up on their tongue like tickets on the windshield of an illegally parked car. How do I know? Because I was there.

When my mom sat me down to tell me about a program at school that spanned all of August, the Stuyvesant Innovation Program, I was halfway out the door before she could finish her thought. She listed what I'd learn and the applications of the material, tossing in the all too familiar words, "college application" somewhere in the mix of nonsense that'd been spouted at me. I was hearing, not listening. Even after I'd taken the time to look over the program, I flat out refused. Four weeks of activity, albeit educationally enriching and potentially enjoyable, was simply not comparable to four weeks of break.

The notion that I'd get a full summer to myself apparently was an illusion. I was foolish to believe a mother like mine would let me squander so much time. It's not that she didn't give me a choice in joining the program, but with the other options she gave me, she might as well have. It was at this point I opened my eyes to the Stuyvesant Innovation Program.

I was flabbergasted to learn that this class that my mom had forced upon me wasn't an entirely abysmal prospect. If I'd taken as much as a glance at it the previous few days, I might've made out its myriad of merits. It boasted a laundry list of various machinery that I would come to know my way around, such as a 3D printer and laser cutter, as well as an entire week dedicated to the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. Somewhere within me, there was a stirring, as if a poltergeist plucked my soul like a string on a harp. An entrepreneur was one of my earliest career aspirations.

I'd been sold. I banged out the class application on a slow June evening and wrote off the Summer Innovation Program as a thought for my future self to further process.

Cut to August.

I dropped my bags on the floor of my living room, and the responding thud ripped the last thoughts of Greece from my head, reverberating through my lightly toasted body. I still had a full week of summer before the program started, so I sat down, put my feet up, and before I knew it, it was the first day of class.

I walked into the husk of our school, empty in its summertime incarnation, and dropped my inhibitions at the door. Outside the Innovation Lab, where I'd be spending the rest of my summer “vacation,” I met up with an acquaintance whom I hadn’t expected to see, and he quickly noticed my transformation from a frail, pale-skinned ghoul to an equally frail but slightly more tanned ghoul. We talked about nothing for a short time until Assistant Principal of Chemistry and Physics Scott Thomas arrived. He came off as quiet and foreboding and quickly led us inside where we cautiously took our seats according to the group outline he'd devised in the previous weeks.

The vibe given off from the room that day and all its unfamiliar faces was, in many ways, similar to the one I'd experienced on my first day of high school in freshman year. It was further accentuated by Thomas' cruel words, ones that I'd expected sourly. "The first hour of today's meeting will be spent getting to know the people at your table," he uttered. The sophomore, junior, and senior at my table worked with me to dispel the awkward miasma that seemed to seep from the panels of the ceiling and onto the table between us.

We spent that day discussing possible prototypes to develop over the coming four weeks, and surprisingly enough, I had generated one that had both promise and appeal. Thomas gave a detailed presentation on the commands of the AutoCAD mechanical program, which would be necessary for everything we'd do in the program.

Surprisingly, my prototype idea was the only thing my class and I held on to from the first day. My group dissipated, and our members, except my fellow sophomore, broke off to form new squads bound by friendship instead of rule. Thomas' formality quickly fell by the wayside, with our lesson on the laser cutter being a discussion instead of a presentation and us learning to build robots on our own from factory instructions.

As four weeks drifted by and summer drew to a close, I at last began to see my labors come to fruition. On the last day of the program, the group I constructed around my idea, which was a swiveling pencil, stood up in front of a panel of judges, successful businessmen and women who had taken the time to be there, and gave our entrepreneurial pitch. As we gave our painfully memorized lines with statistics and lines of persuasion, my heart raced. The judges had their questions answered dutifully, and at last we heard the ringing applause of the panel and greater audience as we victoriously returned to the back of the room. It was only then that the very last of my doubts dissipated.

So, intrepid Spectator audience, I dare you to say yes to that invitation someone offered you over e-mail. I don't think my words have the power to rouse you from your high seat of laziness, but go out there and prove me wrong. Don't do it to please your tiger parents, or even for your closest friends. Do it, dear reader, for yourself.