During the past three years, I’ve made more than a fair number of poor decisions. It’s funny how we can do a million amazing things, accomplish our goals and completely transform, but we turn around and our mistakes are the only things that have followed us on our 100-mile hike. I consider mistakes to be like earthquakes.

Anything from missing a due date, to falling into peer pressure, to letting fear control you. They rewind any progress you’ve made on your project, in growing up, in strengthening trust or even life in general.

But just like earthquakes, mistakes are natural and can’t be prevented.

The way I think of it, we build a sort of personal city in middle school. You work towards making this city as disaster-proof as possible. In sixth grade you learn the basics, like laying out the foundation for yourself. If you build it strong, it will hold everything that’s going to be assembled on top of it.

And then comes the buildings. In seventh grade, you gain more knowledge to add on to the basics that you learned the year before. This is the year most of us realize that good grades and a perfect life won’t be handed to us. You have to blueprint your design and construct it yourself.

Once the structure of the building is finished, you add details. Making your buildings stronger and adding small reinforcements that prepare you for a catastrophe. Eighth grade is all about preparing for the scary experience ahead: high school. Little details could include self-motivation, perseverance and not trying to outsmart the teachers.

Throughout this whole process, you have to deal with earthquakes. You have to deal with drama and bad grades and regrets. You have to deal with things that wrap your arms behind your back and tape a limit on you. Things that shake your whole life and leave you with debris.

The earthquakes in 6th grade, however, won’t ruin much. Missing a due date isn’t going to hurt. It’s a magnitude 3 or 4 at most, a crack in the concrete. In seventh grade, they’re a little more harmful. Grades matter more, and troublemaking has bigger consequences. The earthquakes can bring buildings crashing down, which is hard to repair, a magnitude 6 or so.

Earthquakes in eighth grade can undo a lot of progress. A “C” on an assignment can ruin the “A” you’ve had all quarter, and getting the wrong answer suddenly makes you feel like you are a wrong answer. You’re expected to grow up, and any childish mistake you make will be a puppy on your heels and follow you to high school, only a year away.

Through seventh and eighth grade, the pressure was building up under my city. Tectonic plates strained to get past each other, friction grew too strong, and when it finally released pressure it shook the ground and the buildings and the sky, and this series of earthquakes seemed like it would never end. The P-wave gave a huge jolt and the S-wave started to destruct and the surface wave made even my skyscrapers sink into the ground. Some earthquake damage was repairable; some earthquakes left me with what seemed like nothing but disaster to stare at.

They say that if there’s an earthquake, expect a tsunami. Tsunamis can be worse than earthquakes, because no matter how earthquake-proof your buildings are, no matter how many tweaks you’ve made to yourself to avoid mistakes, if the water keeps rushing in there’s no preventing it from reaching you. High school can be a tsunami that swallows you up out of nowhere, that surges in from miles away and stacks up on top of itself until it reaches you, and before you get your first assignment back you’re completely disoriented — at least that’s how teachers have made it seem.

For the past three years I’ve been building and rebuilding and recovering and preparing, and I still feel as if the tsunami is going to consume me without a second thought. Sometimes looking back at all the mistakes I’ve made makes me feel that instead of transforming, I’ve been shrinking. Also, the fact that I used to be taller than everyone and now I’m one of the shortest ones here. But when I put it all into perspective, I realize that every earthquake, from a magnitude 2 to 10, has forced me to have a better sense of reality. Each one makes me think “I can’t do that in high school.” I can’t count on my fingers many times someone has told me that you learn from mistakes. It’s important to find purpose in pointlessness. These earthquakes might seem worthless to your transformation, but they can be the most essential part.

Lauren Kyles will be a freshman at West Linn High School this fall. She wrote this speech for her eighth-grade graduation from Rosemont Middle School.

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