Pencil to Paper

The Daily Life of a Compulsive Writer

Chemistry Woes July 4, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 10:26 AM
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To my great distress, it appears that I have actually retained something from HL chemistry. (I warn you – a lot of it will appear in this post. Read at your own risk.)

I understand this. That’s not natural.

This sorry tale began when I was perusing the Sunday newspaper. I had a list of chores waiting, so naturally I took my time. When I flipped over a page, I was confronted with an ad for a ‘miracle pill’. Everyone knows the type. They slow aging, make heart problems vanish, make you bleed rainbows, whatever. These were for weight loss.

What caught my attention was the introduction paragraph, which announced that new pills had appeared quickly after the FDA pulled old versions off the shelves. Besides the obvious problem of the FDA taking action, ‘quickly’ made me nervous. We spent a whole class period on drug research and formation. From isolating a lead compound to putting bottles on the shelves, the process should take around ten years. Faster isn’t safe.

Skepticism fully engaged, I read further. The chem part of my brain grew more and more distressed. The ad (and the website I checked later) did not specify a lead compound (active ingredient). Instead, it used vague terms like ‘complex phenylethylamine’. (I drew this structure and was interested to see that it was very close to amphetamine.) They were selling these pills without explaining what was in them, escaping necessary regulations and testing by marketing them as supplements rather than medication.

I launched into a rant to my family about corporate irresponsibility and consumer stupidity, referencing vocabulary terms like ‘chiral center’ and Thalidomide. Partway through, I stopped in horror. What was I doing? Chemistry was over. I shouldn’t be scrawling organic molecules’ structural formulas all over the newspaper.

It’s depressing, but it’s also depressing that companies use people’s ignorance to sell products that could be dangerous. A word to the wise – miracles usually stay in fairy tales. Avoid pills promising unnatural results, especially if they won’t tell you everything. Or just call in a chemistry student. We’ve got your back.


We Survived May 28, 2012

Filed under: Whatever — katblogger @ 3:22 PM
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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.