“Since coming to Exeter, especially for me in the math classroom. I’m encouraged to get things wrong.”
When Jena Yun’17 talks about failure, her tone is animated, even playful. She laughs when describing her early struggles with a camera: the yellow-tinted shots she took because she didn’t understand lighting, her botched focuses in PEA team shots.
Mistakes animate and amuse Jena now. But that wasn’t always the case. She remembers bringing a formula to her first math class at Exeter. A fan of the school’s math team as a middle schooler, she wanted to show her mettle to classmates and Math Instructor Joyce Kemp. She wouldn’t let Jena use the proof, but Kemp did ask the class to prove it as homework.
Describing this “nerve-wrecking” moment, Jena explains, “I was still in a place where I thought I had to get problems right, but I understood the reason for it. You see how the math books hint at a formula and [you] figure out what it is as you work together.”
A senior now, she’s no longer afraid of questions or mistakes and can break down a problem on the board with her classmates. “Now,” she says, “I explain transitions. What other people need to know to understand.”
Gaining such experience in risk taking and cooperation prepared her for the math team competitions, which are group based. Describing her work in the Math Club’s meetings and competitions at the Harvard-MIT Math Tournament and American Regional Math League, Jena says you learn, “There’s not always one way to solve. … I solve one way, someone else can solve it three times shorter.”
Counting on others’ skills helped Jena break down the challenges each shoot presented in her photographs for the school’s student publications as well. With advice from more seasoned student photographers, she could find the right formula to capture the best images. And with less fear of errors, she discovered more combinations to attempt, more strategies leading to success. She’s now photo editor for The Exonian, the school’s student-run newspaper.
Such exploration is stressed in her courses. “Since coming to Exeter, especially for me in the math classroom,” says Jena, “I’m encouraged to get things wrong.”
Maybe that’s why she keeps venturing into new activities. Along with her tuba playing for the concert band and roles on the math team, yearbook, and The Exonian, she is the Rec Committee head and a member of student council and the tennis team. “I have Exeter to thank for making [my life] more confusing,” Jena quips.
When she reflects on how far she’s come, Jena talks about Exeter Social Service Organization, or ESSO. She assists kids struggling with basic tennis skills, who are as focused on mistake avoidance as she once was. The first graders are “swinging rackets everywhere” and often no taller than the nets, but still expecting perfection, still wanting to hit the ball every time. .
She tutors a young tuba player through ESSO as well. Witnessing him struggling with his armature and cheek movements reminds her of her own difficulty with the instrument. “Playing longer notes, he runs out of breath quickly,” she says.
“It takes me back,” she muses. “I wonder how I was.”