Do Our Academies Define Us? A Perspective from BCA’s 2023 Senior Class

Four years ago, the class of 2023 walked through the doors of Bergen County Academies as young and impressionable freshmen, myself included. Eyes wide, we wrestled through crowded hallways among strangers. Everyone was a mystery. To break the ice, each first day class began just the same: “Everyone please go around, state your name, what town you’re from, and most importantly what academy you are in.”

Whether you liked it or not, what academy you belonged to mattered. “She’s such a med kid.” “What a theatre kid thing to do.” “No wonder, they’re business kids.” Stereotypes formed quickly. Afterall, it’s only human nature to try and find organization among a mass of new and unfamiliar faces. 

Now, the class of 2023 enters their senior year. So much has changed. We’ve survived global pandemic, struggled together and alone through countless late nights marked by procrastination and stress, and wondered at least once, what any of it was even for. Everyday since freshman year, we longed to be seniors, leave school on Wednesdays and intern at our dream jobs, take the classes we were truly interested in, and buy food from QuickCheck without punishment. 

Finally, there was something on the horizon: for most college, for all adulthood. Yet despite only going to school four days a week, despite everything Senior Privilege could offer, there was still one thing that tied us to BCA: our academies. Unlike college, there were no switching majors. The choices we made as innocent and ambitious 8th graders, will soon be the deciding factor of our highschool diploma. But then again, it’s been four years. Do our academies truly define us?

To investigate this, I posed a simple question to the senior class: are you currently interested in pursuing a career related to your academy? I figured there would be a simple statistic, a concise conclusion to my thoughts. As the responses churned in, I was gravely proven wrong. The complexities and caveats within the 4-year long relationship between academies and students are extremely personal. It is hard, maybe pointless, to provide a single all encompassing reason why students choose to continue within their academy or branch off. 

At the same time, through interviewing the senior class, I noticed some interesting trends. Among students interviewed from art-related academies (AVPA & ACAHA), most were uneasy about continuing in their field. 

“There is a lot more uncertainty,” Amanda Han, an AVPA-M senior, explains, “and less people end up going into those careers anyways.” 

It is no secret that job security in the creative industry is rare, especially for people interested in pursuing performing or visual art. Amanda’s not alone. According to Mr. Lemma, of the eight recently graduated music seniors (class of 2022), only about half majored/minored in music. 

On the other hand, students from science-related academies have shown to have a stronger desire to stay within STEM, even if their passions no longer lie within their academy’s specific field, 

“I feel like just doing something Med-related doesn’t feel right anymore, considering I have interests in other fields as well (like compsci and engineering),” wrote one AMST senior in the survey, “So, I think an interdisciplinary [study] is the way to go for me.”

This got me thinking, how much has BCA and academy curriculums impacted students’ passions for their academies. For Lynn Cheng, an AVPA-T senior, being in the theater program only amplified her interests in acting. 

“I am pursuing a BFA in acting so I would say I couldn’t have gotten as far as I have as an actor without my AVPA classes.” 

Over the summer, Lynn attended a Shakespeare conservatory in Oxford. An opportunity she wouldn’t have considered without the help of her theater teacher, Ms. Pero.  

“Ms. Pero’s help and all the training I received made me believe that acting was a possible career and wasn’t just a job that didn’t pay well.”

Other times, it is the opportunities outside of your academy that are more appealing. Anya Ganeshan, an ACAHA senior, developed a love for math, computer science, and data through taking STEM-related electives and courses open to all BCA students. 

“I still love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, but I think that my passions and goals for the future lie in another field.” 

If each student’s interests are so diverse, what initially drew them to choose their respective academies? Turns out, 8th graders don’t have much of a vision for the far future. 

One AVPA-T senior remarked, “It’s funny that I initially chose this academy on a whim and there are probably many other alternate realities where I ended up hating that decision.” 

But with time things change, the senior continues on by saying, “My love for my academy’s field has only grown exponentially over time. As I have learned and experienced more, I have only grown more sure that this is what I am supposed to do in my life.” 

Of course, if you haven’t realized already. Every coin has two sides. Alex Xu, a senior in AAST, retells his relationship with science, “I chose science as an 8th grader because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and science seemed like a general enough topic. If anything, the BCA curriculum has killed a large part of my interest in science, especially chemistry. So that’s kinda one of the reasons that I don’t want to pursue anything STEM related in college.” 

So what makes BCA BCA if not for its academies?

“I think you just have to make the most of the opportunities, additional classes/electives, and especially the teachers,” said Rori Stanford, an AVPA-V senior who currently does freelance work and plans on going into illustration and design after highschool. “They really helped me develop my initial interests in illustration and graphic design.” 

The key to success at Bergen County Academies, from the perspective of its graduating seniors, seems to rely more heavily on your own path and passions than those of your academy. For those underclassmen who feel lost and disconnected from their academies, there is always more to look forward to. By senior year, you could have an internship in a completely different field. By college, you might never have to study anything related to your academy ever again. For those who do find love and inspiration within their academies, there is always so much more to learn.