Sincerely and always, Mr. Kim

Editors’ note: The following is a letter written by Mr. Jonathan Kim, a social studies teacher at LHS; he is leaving the school after this school year ends.

I couldn’t think of how to begin this letter… I honestly couldn’t even think of how to address it: “To the students of LHS”… “To the staff & students of Libertyville High School”… “To Libertyville High School”…

Really, this should be a letter to all of the people and experiences that shaped these last two years of my life and will undoubtedly leave a lasting imprint on the rest of my years. That is an extremely difficult and nearly impossible task to complete, and it would take me a year to write and another year for y’all to decipher. So, let’s keep this simple: any of my students could tell you that I love telling stories. Sometimes my stories were relevant to content, other times they were a bit of a stretch… but we learn so much from stories and our recollection of these stories. These episodic memories we call stories have so much potential. The looking-back and retelling of events can oftentimes be more emotional, captivating, and transformative than the actual event itself, which makes every good story worth telling. So, here is one last story I want to share.

When I was a senior in high school, I was really into my 10-year plan. I would go to Stanford for the next four years of my life, and I’d major in chemical engineering. I’d meet a girl my freshman or sophomore year (wow, I gave myself a full two-year range to meet this girl—so flexible!), and I’d be married by 24. I’d take my chemical engineering degree and become a water engineer, working to solve the water crisis that I was sure would be the catalyst to World War III (I still kind of think it could be). I was realistic and knew I probably wouldn’t solve the water crisis in just a couple of years, but I’d be prominent enough that I was making bank and on the list of Forbes 30 under 30. I’d have a child around 27, the age my parents first had a kid, and then boom, I’d be 28. Ten-year plan accomplished.

Then, I was promptly denied from Stanford University and another six out of the eight universities to which I had applied. After 1.5 years at Northwestern University (Go Cats!), I was no longer sure I wanted to be a chemical engineer; I shadowed one for a day and learned that he ended up being a water-flow engineer in a water-heating facility—he looked at thermal flow charts all day long. In a frenzy, I impulsively decided to take two economics and two psychology courses, and a Spanish class that next quarter, and promptly decided that I enjoyed the subjects enough to transfer out of the engineering school and into studying economics, psychology and Spanish. This pattern continued: I made a couple more career-orientation shifts, questioned a couple of the absolute truths in my life, made and lost new friends, never met that girl, slept on a bench in Barcelona, and somehow ended up at Libertyville High School, pursuing my passion for teaching and mentoring.

There are a million more details and stories to tell about these last eight years. At 25, I could write a novel about how I managed to screw up every detail of my 10-year plan in only eight years, or I could write a novel about how I decided to stop trying to write my story ahead of time and learned to live my life in the present instead. As humans, we love planning—it plays a key role in how we manage our anxieties. We always overestimate how much control we have over the external contexts of our life and often focus so much on trying to shape our external circumstances that we forget what we can actually control.

I am done living my life simply managing risk—planning past the lessons I should be learning, avoiding every mistake I should be making, and, in the process, missing humans with whom I should be connecting. Life, like investments, can be played safe with minimal risk. But with safe, low-risk investments comes low reward. You could paddle down the stream in your backyard for your entire life, going a little bit further each time and calling it a day…or you could go whitewater rafting down a river you don’t know but have always wanted to try, whose every turn is more unpredictable and whose every crescendo is louder than the last.

Every moment of life has too many lessons to learn, too many mistakes to make, and too many humans to know, most notably yourself. So, be a learner, give yourself grace, and love relentlessly, all the while learning about you and the humanity within you. Humans are brilliantly impressive and wonderful, and equally frustrating and irrational—they are all worth getting to know and learning to love and treat with respect. Including you.

I hope when you look back in a few years that you have more scars from the risks you took than regrets from those you did not. We are passionate creatures by nature, and pursuing those passions will take you on a lifelong adventure. This next chapter of my life is less about leaving LHS and more about pursuing a new adventure. LHS will always hold a special place in my heart and, as much as I love teaching and this school, I am excited for this next adventure and confident that it will lead to more learning and more growing. Thank you to everyone who has touched my life these last two years; for the growth, friendship, and learning that happened in this place, there are no words, and I could never fully express my gratitude.

So, until our paths cross again: Go ‘Cats!

Sincerely and always,

Mr. Kim