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This year was a compilation of firsts for me. It was the first time I had to say goodbye to someone for the last time. It was the first time I picked up my sketchbook in over three years and realized how much I liked drawing and the kind of tranquility it brought to my heart. It was also the first time I had a real job with a paycheck made under my name, no one else’s! For the first time, my co-workers realized how good I was at math when I calculated change without looking at the register or telling them the number of ice cream containers left after a week’s worth of business, without checking the inventory lists. In addition, it was my first time to realize that some of the people I had been working with, including those of my age, had children and families to support; and what I considered as just a little summer job at Ben and Jerry’s was indeed their life and their means of paying their bills and supporting their families. Unlike I, for them, it was not a weekend, an afterschool, or a summer job.
Some of my coworkers asked if I had children of my own and my only thoughts were, “How could I have children when I have an economics project due next week and I can barely remember to wash my own clothes?” When I told them for the first time that I was 17, in high school and preparing for college, they told me, “You are lucky!” I was a little nervous on my first day at work, but generally, everyone was kind to me. Sometimes I felt quite uneasy but the people at work could make me feel comfortable. I was thrilled to find a job over the summer break, but I had no idea of what to expect. At first, I felt like I was on my own, and that if I achieved or failed in my position, I would only have myself to look at and no one else.
I soon realized that my success or failure could affect not only me, but my co-workers as well. Small tasks, such as how fast I used the register; how fast I scooped ice cream; or how fast I named all the 73 flavors to first-time customers were what made the store run well for everyone else in the company. I realized that it mattered not only how well I worked but also how well I worked with my new coworkers. They relied on me to keep up the pace for all sales activities at the store to run smoothly. It was different from what I thought I would feel. For the first time I felt like a grown up and I had responsibilities that I had never had on my own.
It was also my first time to open my own savings account of which I had a sole responsibility to fund. I was very excited to receive my first paycheck, and for a 17-year-old kid, I had a considerable amount of money to spend on buying video games, subway sandwiches, or anything else my heart desired. Surprisingly, I was not thinking about myself, but my co-workers. I became confounded imagining that the same paycheck would be used to meet the needs of some of my coworkers and the families they cared for. Most probably, they could not be spending on buying PSP memory cards or gyros, but on supporting their children and extended families, paying rent, groceries, or clothing—that truly hit me. For the first time I understood why I had been told, “You are lucky!” This incidence made me think, for the first time, about my life and my future.
I have always known that I wanted to go to college, but it was for the first time I actually looked at myself in the future, with my own family and what I would be doing. Even though I had been conditioned to think about college for a long time, it was the first time I really felt ready to make some important decisions. I was also the first time I knew that preparing for college was no longer in the past, but in the present. This was my first time thinking about the direction I wanted to go in, and I was ready. This June will be the first time I graduate high school, and the first time to start taking small steps into my future. I plan to work at Ben and Jerry’s again this summer and I cannot wait to tell my co-workers how lucky I am working with them, and how their lives helped me understand my life for the first time.