Sorry in advance for the long post. If you decide to stick it out and read the whole thing, thank you and congratulations to you. I am in awe of your attention span. The second reason can actually be indirectly explained in an essay I wrote for my senior speech back in February. Here it is:
       Hi everyone. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mary, and I spent my junior spring semester at the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colorado. HMI is a semester program for juniors in high school that fuses education with the outdoors. While out there, I spent a month total on two backpacking expeditions in Utah and one skiing expedition in Leadville. The other three months were spent on the HMI campus where my 41 classmates and I slept in cabins, attended classes, ran for morning exercise, did chores, cooked for 60 plus people, played games, pulled pranks, and became a family (this is when you all say "aww").
      When I first decided to make a senior speech, I knew I wanted to talk about HMI, but I had no idea what specifically I was going to write. One of my teachers suggested I tell a story and connect it to what I learned while I was out in Colorado. This, unfortunately, did not narrow it down much. My HMI story catalogue is extensive - I could talk about it all day. As for lessons, I learned tons – most of which are clichés, but startlingly true. But what was the most important lesson? I could tell you guys that everyone in this room can do anything they set their mind to. Or I could tell you to always give others a clean slate. Or perhaps I could tell you to 
never light your sleeping bag on fire, or don't tell your teacher after the fact that you handed your homework in late because there's a chance he/she did not notice, and if you ever go into the backcountry, do not forget a utensil, because eating pasta with your hands sucks balls. But for some reason, none of these felt fitting.
      So instead I wrote the following, and I hope you enjoy.
      As my voice trails away, I am lulled into a blanket of security cocooned in my sleeping bag with ice crystals glittering around me. Hearing my tarpmates laugh and chatter, eyes watering with joy, mouths gasping for breath, and faces plastered with grins, my heart expands out toward them. These, girls, whom I have known not even three months, I have shared such memorable, irreplaceable, and adventurous experiences with. But the fact that we hiked a 13,898 foot mountain can go untold. Or that we spent long, cold hours building igloos together. Or that we triumphed over skiing up hills with heavy packs, and loaded sleds. Or that every day we faced challenges that we never dreamed we could overcome. For it is not the insurmountable victories that make up our experience at HMI, but the little things that make us who we are: who we have become. 
         On campus it is the waking up for morning exercise and breathing in the tight air suspended with snowflakes. It is the contagious energy at eight o’clock in the morning to be first in line for breakfast. It is even cleaning the dirt-smeared floor of the mudroom, littered with backpacks and pencils. The cheers and shouts that radiate from impromptu soccer games in the dirt parking-lot and the silence broken up by suppressed laughter during study halls are some of the most endearing sounds that echo through the HMI campus. As I stroll back to my bed, past the bathrooms raging with music, push open the door of Cabin 4, and spot the congregation of my cabin-mates sitting around the glow of the fire, I know I am alive. 
         On trail, it is the perfect mold of my hiking boot encasing my feet. It is the whistling wind whipping my face as I shred up the gnar. It is the spontaneous outbreak of song on trail, and the somber philosophical ideas we share, filling one another with wonder. It is the snickers I eat with my tarp mates after a long day, and the snoring and sleep talking that ensue. It is the thousands of stars suspended in the indigo sky winking down on me, and the seductive breath of the night that carries me off to sleep.
       When I first arrived at the HMI campus, overwhelmed by a cluster of strangers waiting to greet me, I had no idea what that place, or what those strangers would mean to me. But a mere four months later and sprinting back into the Main Building every morning, electrified by my breathtaking run, I felt at home when I pushed through those front doors. 
       Looking back, I now know what
 that place, and what those people mean to me. They symbolize life. And what it means to live. 
       Torn away from my new home, my transition back has not been easy. I of course miss all the typical things about HMI such as the bonds of friendship with my peers and teachers that run as deep as the canyons we hiked into. I miss the mountains and taking two weeks off from school every month to go backpacking. But what I miss most of all, is being able to live every day to the very fullest. Every morning at 6:30 we would be up and running four miles. During a three-hour science lab we might take a break to go sledding. After lunch you could count on playing an extreme game of knock-out with students and teachers alike. And the day before my AP U.S. exam, I did not spend my time cramming, but rather went to the local ski mountain and learned to snowboard. Unfortunately, I have found that my life here cannot sustain that sort of lifestyle. I find the never-changing, never-ending cycle of school-sports-homework-bed wearisome. Yet I try to look at this current predicament with an open mind. What I took away from HMI was a knowledge of what I want. 
I want a life where I live. For, as the author, Annie Dillard, once said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
Essay explained:
"I want a life where I live." Those seven words strung together play a big role in my decision to take a gap year. HMI changed me in a way I did not know was possible. It gave me a taste of a truer happiness than I had ever known before. The only way I can attempt to explain it is to borrow an idea from a good friend of mine. He said once that there was a certain element of magic there. An undeniable spark that fed our souls. And now that I have left, all I want to do is recapture that little bit of magic, and funnel that into my life. The direct result? I have learned to dream. 

I have learned to dream beyond the ordinary. If I had gone to college this year, it would have been because that is what everybody does. It is what you are "supposed" to do. But I am no longer foolish enough to fall into the waiting jaws of that monstrous trap. I wish to do what I want to do.

Dreaming, in turn, has led to freedom. Now that I am on said Gap Year, and am living what I have dreamed, I have discovered freedom. A basic right of a U.S. citizen, but one that is sadly, exercised seldom. It is high time for people to take initiative and go forth into the world. My little taste of freedom has left me ravenous. I say with assurance that my decision to take a gap year will lead to more options in the future. I will know the possibilities. 
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.”

-Mark Twain


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