Reflections after a gap year

Around this time last year, I wrote about taking time to discover yourself. For high school seniors, August is usually a time for reflection. With examination results coming up, and our illustrious high school careers coming to an end, we must inevitably turn our minds to our next steps.
It is definitely a frightening time. Uncertainty and pressure become our closest companions; the former fuelling the latter. Any transition period is daunting, but I feel as though the one wherein we decide what to do after high school is one of the most significant. I feel like this because I think this is one of the first times we take agency over the direction of our lives. Of course, the advice of our parents and trusted elders is important; but, ultimately, the onus falls on us to investigate all possible options and make the best decision for ourselves.
Last year, when I was faced with the “What’s next?” question, I chose to take a gap year. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately I think it was the best for me. When you mention taking a gap year to Guyanese, they seem confused by the concept. It’s as though you might as well be giving up on any academic ambition. “So you’re just going to stay home?” Of course not. Gap years have numerous purposes. In my instance, because I knew I wanted to apply to universities in the United States, I took the time to write the SATS (the examinations necessary for entrance to US schools). But even though I knew that what I was doing was for my own good, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t hard. I had to see my colleagues go off to university or start working in their fields. It felt like everyone was moving forward and I was stuck in a prison of my own design. I’d already written CAPE, at any point, I could have given up and applied to UG, UWI or schools in Canada; but that’s not what I wanted for myself. I knew I wanted to pursue a very specific major available at a few schools, and in the end, I am so happy with how it worked out.
Are gap years always beneficial? No. Like everything else, it depends on the person. My gap year really allowed me to explore and develop my passions. With the added free time, I was able to focus more on writing, and I was able to also practice art. Art, for a long time, has been a hobby of mine, but school always took a priority. I have no regrets about that, but I am grateful that I was able to dedicate some time this year to practising art. I was able to meet members of the art community, display my pieces in an art gallery (The Duke), and I was even able to sell three pieces. Knowing that someone likes my art so much that they are willing to pay for it gives me a sense of pride and validation that I don’t think I had previously experienced.
I was also able to give back. I love physics, and I think anyone who wants to study the subject should be afforded the best opportunities possible. Unfortunately, physics is somewhat of a neglected science. There are few people who want to do it at higher levels, and even fewer who are willing to teach it. After I had written the SATS, I began to work as a CAPE physics teacher at The Bishop’s High School, and it was both a rewarding and enlightening experience. I developed a newfound respect for teachers, and I was also able to tutor some of the students whom I genuinely consider to be some of the brightest in the country.
To current seniors: if you are uncertain about what you want to do, seriously consider a gap year. They can be beneficial, if done right. Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a snap decision; e.g. starting to work at a job you don’t really like just because people keep judging you for “doing nothing”. Don’t just make up your mind on a major just so that you can have an answer when people ask you. Take the time to investigate everything. A year spent in contemplation is nothing compared to a lifetime stuck in a career you hate.