In January of 2011, Ingrid Lustig watched the documentary “Race to Nowhere” and left the theatre knowing she had to make changes in her life.
The film profiled several teenagers who were struggling from the stress of academics and feeling pressure to get accepted to top universities. Ms. Lustig, who was then a sophomore at Lake Forest High School, felt an immediate connection to the featured students and related to many of the same issues they were coping with.
“I had been suffering from severe migraines every time an [Advanced Placement] test came up or an intense night of homework and extra-curricular activities rolled around,” she recalled. After seeing the documentary, she said, “I remember walking out of the high school auditorium feeling like I had permission to be worried about myself. The pressure I was feeling was not normal.”
Last fall as she began her junior year, Ms. Lustig decided to start started a group to help LFHS students better cope with the academic stress and pressure of high school. The group, called Enjoy the Journey, places an increased effort on savoring the experience of high school.
The organization created a website (enjoythejourneylfhs.weebly.com) that serves as a forum for students to talk about a variety of issues ranging from healthy eating habits to insight on how to pick a college. The group has several ‘sherpas’–students who help guide others through the peaks and valleys of adolescent life. The sherpas are always available to talk via the Enjoy the Journey website, standing ready to provide guidance and listen to student problems.
Perhaps the most visible way the group is influencing the local community is through the use of its namesake phrase. The LFHS administration selected Enjoy The Journey as the theme of this year’s annual “Emotional Wellness Walk” on May 21. LFHS Superintendent Harry Griffith also recently announced the start of an emotional wellness fund that will bear the Enjoy the Journey name. And the non-profit group LEAD is using a variation of the phrase for the title of this year’s Parent University, which is “Life’s a Journey, Not A Race.”
“I believe that the (Enjoy The Journey’s) message strikes a chord in students and adults alike and reminds us all to appreciate our school and the great people in it,” said Jennifer Knight, an educator at the high school who supervises Enjoy the Journey.
The wellness walk is an all-school event; the day features a shortened class schedule and a two and a half mile walk with the student body and teachers. The walk meanders through surrounding neighborhoods before looping back to the front lawn for a gathering and celebration. Ms. Lustig said the walk fits perfectly with the Enjoy the Journey mission, as they “walk, not run, together.”
Though Enjoy the Journey started before the tragic events at LFHS this year, and does not directly address depression, the group’s mission is especially relevant in the wake of the recent suicides.
“All along, its goal has been consistent,” said Ms. Knight. “Now its message is even more meaningful.”
Ms. Lustig is finishing her junior year at LFHS. She has scaled back many of her extracurricular activities to make her schedule more manageable. She said she has gained a more fulfilling high school experience: one with greater perspective and a refined emphasis on the things that are truly important to her.
“Stress is a part of high school,” Ms. Lustig said. “But it should not be synonymous with high school.”
By Keith Chapman, GazeboNews intern