Expressway: Life lessons from a buoy and a diploma

A swimmer in the water at Cedar Beach

A swimmer in the water at Cedar Beach in Southold. (Credit: Randee Daddona)

Staring out into the ocean, I felt ready. I had been coming to Jones Beach my whole life, and had always wondered when the day would come that I would dive into the ocean at Field 6 and swim about 190 yards to a white, cone-shaped buoy and back.

A casual swimmer, I knew this would be a challenge. Still, that afternoon last July, I dove in with my mom, my sister and some friends and began swimming toward my goal. As I took my first stroke, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I wondered where this familiarity was coming from because I had never done anything like this before. Wanting to keep my focus, I shrugged off the feeling.

But as I swam, I flashed back to my first weeks at Syosset High School. As a freshman in 2009, new classes, classmates and experiences awaited me. I was prepared to confront setbacks while working toward my academic goals.

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Almost halfway to the buoy, the water became choppy, and my feet could no longer reach the ocean floor. Realizing there was still quite a distance left, I picked up my pace. Swimming freestyle, I kept my eye on the buoy.

The déjà vu hit me again. As the waves curled over my head, I started thinking about school. High school can be tough, and I have always tried to succeed in my classes as well as extracurricular activities in the performing arts. There have been times when achieving success in school has been a balancing act.

In the past two years, I have worked most weekday afternoons as a part-time gymnastics coach. I also was in the chorus or cast in several school musicals. Junior year brought college admissions exams, advanced placement English and several honors-level classes. In senior year, I would face five advanced placement classes, tasks as historian for the school theater club and college applications.

I'm a teenager, of course, so I also liked to hang out with friends and my family.

I think all of these activities gave me confidence for my long swim in July. Knowing that I had only myself to rely on to stay afloat scared me a bit; sometimes I wanted to turn back. But I reassured myself that I was in the company of my mom, sister and friends. We were all swimming well.

When I finally reached the buoy, I grabbed it and looked back at the beach. Though out of breath, it felt so good knowing that I had accomplished my goal. It was not at all easy, but recalling some challenges during high school, I knew that giving up is never the right answer.


The swim back to the beach seemed a lot easier. I just let the waves carry me. When we finally reached the shore, we cheered as we were greeted by onlookers and friends.

This is how I expect my high school graduation to be in a couple weeks, filled with excitement over the completion of my journey. Then I'll have the summer to relax before I begin my next journey. College will be a brand new swim to the buoy.

Reader Amanda Lynn Whorlow lives in Syosset.

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