There is a silly presentation we give at the end of each year to eighth graders who are interested in joining the Octagon.
In this presentation we tell them the “8 reasons to join the Octagon.”
In order, they are:
Number 8: The journalism convention. It’s a field trip without a schedule or constant chaperonage, where staffers wander through the bizarre adult-Disneylands that are corporate convention cities.
This is where inside jokes are born and where we play Mario Kart until 3 a.m. before getting up three hours later and trying to learn something about the future of newspapers. (In a nutshell, it’s not bright.)
Number 7: Winning awards/becoming a better writer. Knowing that you have won the highest award in your field and that no one else has ever heard of that award is as wonderful as it is maddening.
Number 6: Getting into college. This is the reason—even if adviser Patricia Fels would sooner commit seppuku than admit it—that many of us joined in the first place.
Of course, discussing college does give a certain editor and adviser an excuse to name-drop a certain Palo Alto university that shall remain nameless.
Number 5: Becoming more outgoing. This is probably the most profound impact the Octagon had on a freshman who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to write a cooking column.
But, to be honest, I can’t say it was the Octagon that did that; it was the people on it.
The people who shaped who I am today and became my closest friends were responsible, not a few sheets of paper.
Number 4: Late-night paste-up. Paste-up was where we told more jokes, ingested more caffeine and worked harder (on occasion) than any place I have ever known.
This was where everyone was so stressed, exhausted and single-mindedly focused on putting out the issue that we sometimes forgot that it was just a high-school newspaper.
Number 3: Changing things. Maybe this is why we thought the Octagon was more than it really was.
I know it sounds silly. I know at the end of the day we didn’t change anyone’s life.
But we did change things. Partly because of us and the editorials we wrote, students have laptops, WiFi and iPads.
They can park on American River Drive and feel safe knowing that campus security is treated as a real issue.
We tried to talk about things in our community that no one else did—sex, drugs, eating disorders, alcohol and race—and maybe, hopefully, all that work did some good.
Number 2: Camaraderie. This is what all those late nights amounted to. This is the reason that I tell younger students to join the Octagon.
I tell them, honestly, they will work harder at this than any of their classes, silly as that may seem.
They will abandon sports and extracurriculars that they genuinely enjoy for it and put off that college essay one more night to get a story done or a layout finalized.
And when they look at me like I’m crazy, as they rightly should, I tell them it is all worth it.
It is worth it for the simple reason that nothing bonds people closer than sharing the same stressful, infuriating, exhausting experiences night after night.
Number 1: The Cave. This is where all of the above happens. This is the place where our absurd devotion to Octagon is on display. The Cave is the place where the change and the award winning and the camaraderie happen.
The Cave is not just our place. It is the place where 30 years of editors and writers have sat where we are now, making decisions that we too have to make.
I guess that’s what I’ll miss most about Octagon.
It won’t be the deadlines or the writing or even the ability to change things.
It will be that Cave, and the people inside it.
A family I didn’t know I needed
Icebreaker games are the worst. The question “Tell us something interesting about yourself” invariably pops up, and whenever it does, my mind tends to go blank.
So I’ve always reverted to the one about myself I know I can convince others is slightly interesting—I’m a twin.
It usually gets a few attentive nods, and then the person next to me is up, talking about how she’s broken 12 bones, rows crew or has a birthmark in the shape of Africa.
But what those people who nodded don’t realize is that having a twin has meant I always have family wherever I am (and at Country Day, that means probably at the table next to me).
But at SCDS, that just doesn’t seem unusual.
People, myself included, describe the school as “one big family”—and everyone finds a place. That’s the school’s aim, and I’m sure the students, who are able to call themselves academics, athletes, musicians, actors, artists—whatever—will be forever grateful.
But having that “family” experience was never my goal in the 14 years I’ve spent at SCDS. I mean, I’d already had that place my entire life. It was next to Will, my twin, and I knew I was never alone.
Rather it was to find a place at Country Day where I could be Will-free, and as a result, “family”-free.
That was where the Octagon came in. A writing-filled, high-stress elective was definitely not for my brother.
So I joined and began writing, designing and obeying the orders of our adviser, Patricia Fels.
I hung out in the Cave (our workroom) and was there to watch the older staffers work to put out the paper in a state of pseudo-psychosis. It only caused me to work harder and invest myself more.
Soon Octagon became my priority—I would choose writing a story over studying for a test, talking to Fels over finishing some last-minute homework.
And that’s when I realized the family I had never been searching for had found me. The Octagon, in all its stressful, disposable glory, had taken me in, and made me one of its own.
Fels was the tiger mother of our staff, pushing us to our limits (mostly for good—and I can’t thank her enough for it). My fellow staffers were my siblings, and the Cave was our tiny home.
And like a family, it was full of camaraderie, but also chock-full of drama and dysfunction.
Sometimes I wanted to strangle people, but most of the time I couldn’t imagine my life without them.
When I look back on high school, the Octagon is what I will remember the most.
The staff became the part of me that was always around, and rather than being at the table next to me, they were in all the dust-filled chairs surrounding me in the Cave.
So next year, surrounded by the masses at UCLA, I doubt my answer to the Icebreaker games that plague orientation week will be that I’m a twin.
Rather, my answer might be that I was editor-in-chief of an award-winning paper, and that I miss it (and even the adviser) dearly.
Whatever it is, I know that I will owe it to the Octagon. Like a family, it taught me who I am.
A life lived by music
There is one thing I hold close to my heart: music.
Because of this, I find myself falling back on music to write this column: my last piece of writing for the Octagon.
As I scroll through my iTunes library, I get a sense of reminiscence. Each artist or song represents a stage or moment in my life that is hard to express in words.
Let me try to do just that.
The top of my library was freshman year. Those were the Beatles and rock ’n’ roll days. I, unlike everyone else in my grade, was into the old stuff. I couldn’t stand any of that rap or crappy hip-hop. “We get it Lil’ John. You’re deaf. No need to constantly scream,” I always thought. But still I listened to it and tried fitting into my classmates’ tastes.
I found peace from the stress of fitting in high school listening to the sweet voice of Lennon and his inspirational words.
Scroll down some more in my library, and I come to the turning point in my life.
I changed my sophomore year, when at a ski and snowboard race my ears were assaulted by the sounds of the electronic genre dubstep (or what I call brostep).
It was from the moment that I heard the infamous bass drop that my world changed. It was through this radical anti-mainstream music that I found myself.
It soon became my duty to be different. Colorful pants, crazy music tastes and giant glasses were who I became.
And when I think about it, I don’t think this could have happened anywhere but Country Day.
It was here that I was surrounded by amazing people and teachers, who not only allow individuality to flourish but catalyze it.
And for this I’m thankful; but as I continue scrolling in my library, I come across a song that has defined three years of my life: “Ravers Fantasy.”
It’s the techno song (played as we send the Octagon to print) that will always remind me of the crazy late-night paste-ups when all hell broke loose as students dedicated the wee hours of night to creating this amazing paper.
But it is also this song that will remind me of the one thing I was never able to achieve in my high-school career. I will go down in history as the one editor-in-chief to never be given a “+” on one of my articles.
And thus I conclude my ramblings.
Thank you, Country Day, for making me who I am. Screw you, Fels, for never giving me that plus. So long and thanks for all the fish.