Emily Feigen
Winston Churchill
Potomac, Maryland
12th Grade
Third Place Winner

The Clarity in Ambiguity


What would make my high school experience more relevant to my future? The answer to this is unclear. I

am not saying I do not know, I am saying that I would like a little less clarity and a little more nuance in

my school. I never thought I, a by-the-book woman of structure and general rigidity, would plead the

public education system for ambiguity, but here I am. I am the person who carries around both a

colorcoded calendar app as well as a color-coded physical calendar. But yes, I would like some more

uncertainty in my high school education system. I believe this is relevant to both my future and every

adolescent’s future because every single occupation and every single lifestyle will contain some form of

gray area and neither my peers nor I am prepared to handle such a foreign concept.


We need to learn the value of flexibility and, ironically, the value of one of the only absolute laws of the

universe: nothing is absolute. I suppose this may indicate that the rule itself is nuanced, diminishing the

“absolute truth” of such a rule, creating a vicious paradoxical cycle, but such is the cycle of life! Life is

not one of the following answer choices: A, B, C, D, or E. Life is all of the above. It is not, however, ALL of

all of the above, it is SOME of all of the above. Students are more than a letter, we are the entire

alphabet. We are more than a number, we are the unreal reality of infinite. As young adults, we deserve

to not be conditioned to generalize the world into its simplest letters, numbers, and labels we see fit. We

deserve to learn about everything in between.


And, much like most of the universe, this is not a one-sided argument. There is nuance. I understand why

the public education system created such a rigid structure of “the answer is A, not B” and “essays must

be in this order.” First of all, it is much easier to have control of a situation when there is an outlined

order, which is particularly helpful when dealing with children. Even more importantly, it is easier to

teach inflexible rules to children because what is absolute is inherently simpler and far easier to

understand than the moral grays, nuances, and complexities of the real world. A child’s mind can only

handle so much information at once, and abstract concepts of uncertainty can be difficult for even many

adults to comprehend. However, embedding these ideas rather than drilling simple commands into the

minds of the future at a young age may ease the transition into adulthood.


Call me a nerd, but I love learning. The issue with my high school experience is that it has been more of

an unlearning experience than a learning experience. The curriculum is still requiring its students to,

mostly metaphorically, color inside the lines, and I am desperately using my outside experiences to try

and recognize the value of what is outside the lines. I am trying to understand that nothing is perfectly

rigid. Everything and everyone- no, no- MOST things and MOST people have something at least a little

bit different about them, a little bit shaded, and a little bit ambiguous. Nothing is simply black or white

(except, of course, the colors black and white, making my previous statement no longer absolute). Most

things in life are on a spectrum, and we should not be taught to disregard every beautiful nuance in life

and allow it to boil down to five answer choices.

I am approaching this essay with the idea that I have no idea of what will happen in my future. One thing

I do know, however, is that whatever beautifully ambiguous path of life I decide to take, I will never be in

a job where I “lose points” for choosing the incorrect answer that I do not even get the opportunity to

justify. Even if I become a lawyer (which I do not plan on doing, but if this essay is persuasive enough,

who knows?), the occupation that epitomizes the value rule and law, I will have to learn every single

uncertainty, loophole, and exception to each law, and I will have to learn all possible perspectives and

interpretations of said laws. Beyond that, I will, arguably, more importantly, have to learn to argue and

persuade human people with real emotions, who fall victim to the power of persuasion, rather than guess

the correct letter for a machine that reads bubbles, not reason.

This logic goes for most (I should not say all) occupations. Even in science, my intended field of study,

scientists have to learn the prominence of human error and fault in absolutism. A hypothesis is nothing

but an educated guess, and adult living is nothing but a series of educated guesses. If one study

indicates one result, that may not be the exact or only result. Many more tests have to be executed, and

even if there may still be a clear result, it is likely that it will be 100% accurate. From there, stipulations

must be taken into account, such as the investigation’s environment and possible areas where such an

experiment would not produce the same results. After everything that could possibly be proven has been

proven, there will still always be that ounce of nuance, such as the infinite list of warnings and possible

side effects of a medication that claims to be THE solution to all of your problems. It makes life far more

complicated to teach us that life is that simple.

Besides the countless occupations that require a significant comprehension in the value of nuance,

practically every other aspect of adult life is a spectrum. Diet, relationships, geographical location,

socioeconomic status. None of these things should exist completely on one end of the spectrum or the

other, and there is not one single Goldilocks sweet spot way to live. This even applies to the college

application process; there is no single perfect dream school for each student. Plenty of students will

thrive at a multitude of prestigious universities, and we should not feel the pressure that we do to find

and be admitted to “the one”. Different aspects of life exist at different levels for different people. And

these slight “differences” are okay, natural, and deserved to be recognized. In addition to my future, the

social, political, and economic future of the planet will fail to progress if adolescents are constantly being

taught that there is only one way of living is the correct choice, and that all slight differences are wrong

and should be disregarded.

Because of such inflexibility embedded in the minds of students, it took me about 17 years to understand

that you can start a sentence with “because” in certain instances, and I was even more bewildered to

discover you can use “you” in a sentence! I am not suggesting we rid the public education system of all

rules and structure. Did I mention my color-coded calendars? However, I feel my high school experience

would feel more relevant to my future if we added some humanity and learned to color outside the lines,

rather than this inhumane, unrealistic rigidity, labeling, and categorization with complete disregard for all

things of slight ambiguity.

One example of how this could be attained would be to allow brief explanations to multiple choice tests

and have teachers grade how well the student actually knows the material, rather than how well they

can choose the correct watered down, generalized summary of incredibly complex ideas. Another

example would be to teach various possible structures of formal essays and allow for some deviations. In

my future, I assume I will not have to present an argument that will be graded on my exact number of

quotes or the skeletal anatomy of my topic sentence. Unless, of course, I become a high school teacher.

Perhaps you did not like this essay. Maybe you found the structure of it almost barbaric, and the constant

use of first and second person to be unbearable. But maybe you didn’t hate it. Maybe you found the fact

that I began my last sentence with a coordinating conjunction and then proceeded to use an informal

contraction in formal writing charming. I can be rebellious like that. I do not expect every single person to

find this essay perfect or horrible because, well, not everything is so black or white. We live in an

integrated, colorful, complicated, out of the lines, out of the box, out of the norm reality and that reality,

humanity, and nuance should be brought into high school classrooms. Maybe.