Lessons in Trying to Sail the Ship of Life

Aug 29, 2013 | Updated Oct 29, 2013


By Jamie Woodard

I knew I could own the Mediterranean with my Pacific Seacraft 37. I jumped aboard ready to sail the endless plain of blue sea and cruise through the white foam mountain tops. The confidence of a 15-year-old at the helm excited the passengers- until I screamed for help. The sails were unwinding from the masts because I really did not know how to sail. I skipped sailing lessons, thinking I could move with the wind. I finally confessed to passengers- livid with fear and screaming for their lives- while I wondered: why did I think it would be so easy to do this?

Fortunately, I never tried to sail the Mediterranean but my Moby Dick-like tale is a dramatization of that question. Why did I think I could solve problems by simply steering into a new world? More specifically, why did I think that all I needed was a boarding school to take me to Utopia?

I spent my Freshman year at Columbia High School with my lifelong friends. We had journeyed from story time to study hall with excitement toward entering the new world of high school together. Yet one huge problem emerged: they treated school differently than I. In biology, I took notes while they gave up on our teacher because of his speech impediment. During labs they shifted their attention from hypotheses to whatever would happen after the bell rang. I wanted to escape into an academically rigorous environment. I was ready for a new ship. Boarding school became the vessel of my dreams.

I began researching schools with a drive that was familiar to my parents. When I was eight years old, my twelve-year-old brother Alex was going to sleep away camp. I wanted to go too and my parents said I was "too young." Really? I conducted my own research, discovered Camp Mason actually did allow kids my age, presented my findings and was soon heading to camp with Alex.

My boarding school research led me to Peddie where I became an eager sophomore. Academically, my research was on target with the kind of precision that made Camp Mason the perfect summer experience. I was not the lone note-taker and was enthralled by the discussions of The Kite Runner and the Taliban rule. I was immersed into the hearts of European revolutions. I loved the new academic life that challenged me in new ways. However the relationships I held with my lab partners vanished when class ended.

I left the familiar world of Columbia to be surrounded by 556 students- most of whom seemed to want to remain strangers to me. Dressed in their Easter colors, most passed by me with side-glances-many refusing my attempts to develop friendships. I lost my hopes for a utopian boarding school. Discouraged? Yes. Ready to give up? No way! I didn't place the fate of my Peddie experience under the control of classmates. I had to control my own ship.

I found the right track, literally. Peddie's indoor track became my new home. I ran from my dismays and toward new goals that drove me to one of my greatest rivalries and challenges; a great distraction from social dismay. Lizzie Edokwe had beaten me in six races since I began running track and the gaps were all fractions of a second. Last spring, I trained every day for the moment I would beat her in the last race of the year. The gun sounded; I heard the loose gravel fly behind me as I launched myself forward with the sun ruthlessly beating my neck. I held my head high focusing on the finish. There was only 200 meters separating me from success. Suddenly I didn't see a victory, but the back of Lizzie's taunting black uniform, staining the path ahead of me. I crossed the finish line with a personal record, but still second-best for the seventh time.

I may never beat Lizzie, but I embrace the progress gained from relentlessly trying. I sailed on my own sea of opportunities when my fellow teammates, enlightened by my progress, made me team captain and the faculty-student senate nominated me to be student-body president. I realized I am not defined by any social tribulations. It wasn't easy to start a new life or lose a race but my efforts set me up for new personal records in avenues I've yet to imagine. Boarding school forced me to make my own way amidst the white waters and tsunamis. Now I may even sail the Mediterranean-after some lessons.

Jamie Woodard just started her freshman year at Georgetown University. She is a 2013 graduate of The Peddie School.