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Osahon Tokunboh: Rediscovering passion for learning at Governor’s School

For a long time, school was like heaven. The day before the first day, I would lie in bed in anticipation, precious hours of sleep slipping way. But it didn’t matter. Tomorrow was the first day of school — another year to learn, to immerse, to grow.

And the excitement continued on. Past the first day, into the second day, into the second month, into the last day of school. From the first day of kindergarten, lunchbox and pencil pouch in hand, to eighth grade graduation, an optimistic smile revealing colorful braces. There were was no trouble getting up the morning because I knew what was coming the next day.

In English class I could be Steinbeck one day and Langston Hughes another; In science class I could be the world’s greatest chemist, mixing whatever chemicals I could find in the teacher’s cabinet: In math class, I could be Archimedes, yelling “Eureka!” after answering a question, no matter how simple that answer was. At the end of long day, I would say prayers with my family and go to bed.

But it was not time to sleep. It was time to imagine. Imagine my next voyage, my next literary piece, my next dive into unchartered but enticing world of this or that. Perhaps there was no need for long hours of sleep. When your passion is awake, it is hard to sleep anyways.

I still don’t get much sleep. But the reasons are different now. Worry and stress from school come in the night and steal those hours that passion once had. ACT, APs, essays, tests… Time has become more precious. I question whether that ambitious poet, goofy scientist, and confident mathematician is still inside me. It hurts to say it, but the truth is the passion for learning has diminished; the candle still burns, just not as brightly.

From my own discussions with other students, this seems like a common occurrence. We enter high school ambitious and zealous, our minds and bodies fresh, ready to journey into this new frontier. But somewhere along the way, we begin to trade our love of learning for test scores and GPA points. We take classes we don’t want to take, join clubs to pad our resume, and sweat over titles like valedictorian as if they were any indicators of future success, of intellect or potential. We’re still learning, but not for the right reasons.

But here at Governor’s School, I’ve been reminded why we learn. Never in my life have I been surrounded by such smart, talented, beautiful people. People who look different from me, talk different than me, and were raised different than me, but all possess a heart of gold. People who can wow you with the mathematics of encryption in the morning and tug with your heart with a piece played on the grand piano. People you can talk to about pressing social issues with in the morning and discuss the NBA draft with later in the evening. People who show music you don’t listen to but that you need to hear. People that give you hope.

I’m sure most of us go to schools or school systems where students themselves value the end results over the journey — and I’m sure that sometimes, we have all bought into that narrative. The narrative that the college we go to defines us. The narrative that a high GPA correlates with intelligence. The narrative that you can only be one thing. The narrative that I am who society says I am. The narrative that the only person in the world that matters is me.

At times, I have believed this. That’s the easy thing to do. It’s hard to challenge narratives, and even harder to recognize you’re not bound by them. At Governor’s School, I’ve learned you craft your own narrative. I can still be that poet, that scientist, that mathematician, that artist if I want to.

Leaving Governor’s School for those three long days was like waking mid-dream. I call this experience a dream because it’s like no other experience I’ve had in reality. The time I spent with my family on break was wonderful. I missed them so much. But I couldn’t help thinking about the new family I had made at this tiny college in Old Salem. It hit me suddenly that I only had two and a half more weeks at the Governor’s School. And for the first time in a while, I longed to be back at school.

I still don’t get too much sleep. I lie on my bed in a semi-air-conditioned room and ponder. I ponder the properties of real numbers and its subsets, and how all this math is over my head in the best way possible. I ponder my Area II and Area III discussions of society and self, of how those two entities are intertwined yet independent. I ponder our lunch time conversations in the Refectory, dining over chicken nuggets and hot sauce. I ponder the extraordinary films of Hitchcock and Keaton broadcast in Hanes Auditorium. I ponder our breakout singing sessions at dinner, crowded around the grand piano.

And I’m reminded why I learn, why I write, why I explore in the first place — just because. We learn for the sake of learning. And that when learning is its purest. So I don’t sweat over sleepless nights. I’m just happy I’m awake again.

Osahon Tokunboh

Osahon Tokunboh lives in Huntersville, NC and attends Cannon School in Concord, NC. Tokunboh’s area of concentration at Governor’s School is mathematics.  He is particularly interested in studying either business or public health in college, using whatever degree he obtains to impact social change on a national and global level. In his free time, he likes to read, play the piano and violin, and watch movies.