Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

We Survived May 28, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 3:22 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Well, I’m back. Again. I do tend to take long breaks, but I should be good for a while, since I just finished the main culprit.

That’s right. On May 22, I took my last International Baccalaureate test. Let me tell you – it felt good.

For students all over the world, this summer marks the end of a long and crazy journey. Non-IB people probably can’t grasp how much of a relief it is. The last two years were the hardest of my life. I cried, broke down, and worked more than I ever had before. People asked things of me that I didn’t know I could do, but I did it anyway. I took 17 and a half hours of tests this year and six hours last year. In between, I wrote hundreds of essays, gave loads of oral presentations, and shed bucketloads of tears. Now I’m done. For me and many of my classmates, everything feels surreal. We don’t know what to do with our lives. While I remain unsure of where I’m going next, I’ve had time to reflect on what I’ve done. This post serves as a summary of my reflections, and I address it – and dedicate it – to all IB grads, especially the class of 2012. No matter where you live or what language you speak, this is for you.


When the average high school student graduates, he throws his cap in the air and thinks “Yeah! I graduated!” When an IB student graduates, he throws his cap in the air and thinks, “Wow. I survived.” This year, my class proposed a group shirt with a Survivor icon and the words ‘Outwork, Outstudy, Outlast.’ On the back it read ‘I survived’. The shirts never hit the printing shop (partially because it burned down, annoyingly enough) but the sentiment remains. This year, our focus and our greatest triumph was in survival.

Think back to your freshman year. If your school worked at all like mine, there were lots of pre-IB students. Now think about the group that graduated with you. A lot smaller, right? You – we – are the ones who kept going, kept working, and made it to the end. Congratulations.

I could talk about chasing dreams and following stars and all those clichés, but this isn’t a graduation speech. You’ve probably heard that all before. Instead, reflect for a moment on what you’ve done. You’ve colormarked more sheets of paper than the average Harry Potter book. You’ve tried and failed to understand ridiculously ambiguous novels and poetry. You’ve written hundreds of essays, some of them in different languages. You’ve conducted psychology experiments and quite possibly blown things up in chemistry labs. You’ve cried, groaned, and despaired of ever making it past senior year.

But I hope you’ve also laughed. I hope you’ve learned something – not just about complex differential equations or electron configurations – but about yourselves. You’ve argued, talked, and made friends who will last forever. You’re part of a community that stretches across the globe, full of people with some of the best educations public schools can provide. These are the people with the skills, intelligence, and determination to change the world, and you’re one of them.

Some high school students might come back to their twenty year reunions and talk about their kids. I challenge all of you – all of us – to come back and talk about being a CEO of a huge company, or having several best-selling novels published, or finding a cure for cancer. Every singe graduate is capable of accomplishing amazing, impossible things. How do I know?

We already did.

Congratulations, IB class of 2012. We survived.



In Which I Put the Fear of God (Or IB, Same Diff) In Your Hearts April 4, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 6:07 PM
Tags: , ,

I haven’t been posting on here very much. It’s lucky I don’t have a million devoted followers. If I did, I might feel worse about vanishing for long periods of time. However, I’m pretty sure no one’s actively thirsting for my blood because I don’t post every other day, so it’s all cool.

Why do I keep disappearing? you ask. I’ll give you a hint: The answer includes two letters, a whole lot of pain, and is pretty much the center of my life.

IB. You guessed it.

Although IB failed to net me the giant scholarships promised (ok, more like implied) I still have to finish it. Our coordinator assured us that “it’s the journey, not the destination”, but that won’t stop me from crying if I end up as one of the 20% who don’t get the diploma.

Testing is in a month and a half. Therefore, my posting will be sparse and sporadic for a month and a half.

Why do I need to review so early? non IB students might ask. The truth is, I probably should have started sooner. For example, I have roughly six inches of Chemistry notes from two years to go through. I also need to memorize significant quotes from four books. This is only scratching the surface. And you thought multiple choice tests were hard.

The bottom line is that I won’t be on here very much, and any posts I do make are likely to be short. Good luck to all test takers and see you at the end.



Death, Lung Cancer, and Failing Grades: Welcome to HL Chem February 25, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 12:54 PM
Tags: , , ,

It's sad because it's true. Credit:

“Ok, guys. If I tell you to drop everything and run, just do it.”

I paused my futile attempt to tie a decent knot in my apron. “You think someone’s going to blow us up?”

“It’s better to be on the safe side,” my Chemistry teacher answered, neatly avoiding the question.

I gave up on the knot – how can you tie something behind you anyway? – and headed over to the goggles cabinet. She was probably right.

We were doing our Chemistry IAs (Internal Assessments, for those of you who aren’t IB grads). With very little teacher aid, we’d written our own experiments and were now doing everything in our ability to screw them up.  Our last attempt had netted us dismal grades ranging from 8 to 1 out of 18, and I for one was determined to at least do slightly better.

Even if, I thought, staring glumly at the pile of copper and aluminum foil shreds that needed to be separated, it meant going through piles of gunk with tweezers.

The teacher never did order us to evacuate, but she probably could have. A guy on the other end of the room put a beaker above a bunsen burner (using a complicated iron ring/clay triangle/wire gauze apparatus that would need a diagram, so I won’t explain it) and the room promptly filled with choking fumes.

“I was just trying to boil it,” he explained as we all ran for cover.

“Your boiling license is revoked,” our teacher snapped.

It would be easier if we had teacher assistance, but any help is strictly limited. IB officials want students to be self-sufficient. I suspect that they may just be sadists, because this rule means that teachers can’t tell us when an experiment is going to go terribly, horribly wrong. Last year, a girl using zinc and hydrochloric acid had to wait two hours for the reaction to end. Last semester, an injudicious mixture resulted in a gout of flame.

I had three beakers reacting and two more slowly filtering out. Clearly, it would be necessary to stay after school. I scratched a few notes on my observations table, wondering how I always managed to create an insanely complicated experiment.

“I’m done,” boasted the Extremely Unbalanced Kid at the counter behind me. “I have all this acid left over.”

“Good for you,” I grumbled, and ignored him. My preoccupation with drying filter papers meant that I missed the moment when EUK decided that it’d be a great idea to dump all of his excess chemicals into a big beaker of 6 molar hydrochloric acid. I did not miss, however, the loud hissing noise and subsequent cloud of smoke. Panicked, EUK dumped the whole mess down the drain. Even more panicked, our chemistry teacher ran over with a box of baking powder, reminding us that we’re Never Ever supposed to pour non-neutralized acid down the drain. I made a mental note not to drink from any water fountains for the rest of the day.

Why didn’t I HL in history?