I received a comment from a Gunn Alumnus after posting When "Achievement" is Toxic: My Thoughts on the (most recent) Gunn Suicide, and Raising Resilient Children. In it, he writes (among other things, you can read the entire comment here),
I take great offense at your description of putting our future colleges on our graduation caps as a “pissing contest.” This opinion exemplifies your lack of understanding of our school. Our graduation caps represent our proud achievements, and I can assure you that they are worn with pride in whatever school we got into. As an example to demonstrate this pride to you, every one of these caps were handmade by the students themselves—we put effort into these because we are proud of what we’ve accomplished.
I wanted to take a moment to address this comment. So here goes.
I stand by what I said about the graduation caps, though. Because getting into your first-choice school isn't an achievement. No matter how amazing and smart and "perfect" you are... there's only a 5% chance you'll get into an Ivy. When I was at Stanford, the admission rate was closer to 10% -- and even then, I knew that I was at least a little lucky to have been accepted. I've been called a lot of things, and "arrogant" is one of them. However, I have never been so foolish as to think my high school achievements were somehow "better" than those of the 9 students who didn't get my spot. We ALL had good grades. We ALL had good test scores. We ALL worked hard. We ALL experienced setbacks, failures... and major victories.
In other words, I truly believe that students who get into Stanford and Harvard aren't "better" than kids who only got into their second-choice (or safety) school. They're just luckier. So calling the college you got into an "accomplishment" is like calling finding $5 on the street during your run an "accomplishment."
On the one hand, you wouldn't have found that $5 if you hadn't braved the rain and cold weather. On the other, you're not a better runner than I am just because you found $5 on your run and I didn't.
Bring it on!
In fact, many parts of our run were probably really similar. We may have both stepped in that unexpectedly huge puddle as we turned onto Arastradero. We both felt our legs burn as we ran up the huge hill at mile two... and we both experienced the corresponding joy when soared over the peak and down the other side. We both caught that glimpse of the sun between the clouds -- and we both saw the rainbow at the end.
Many parts of our run were probably different, too. Maybe I chose a shorter but hillier route. Maybe you took the long way home. Maybe running is a lot harder for me than it is for you -- I was always more of a basketball player. But, at the end of the day, we both put on our shoes and did and saw all these amazing things. And now, instead of honoring and celebrating that... you want to celebrate the "accomplishment" of finding $5?
I totally agree that graduation should be a celebration of all your hard work, growth, experiences and accomplishments. Which is why it's so horrific and confusing to me that Gunn students choose to adorn their heads with... something they "achieved" kind of arbitrarily. Something that may trigger feelings of envy, regret, anxiety or shame.
Most people eventually come to terms with it, but so many kids spend a long time feeling like failures when they don't get in to their first choice school. One girl was so ashamed to tell her parents that she didn't get into Stanford... that she didn't tell them. She went to Stanford, anyway, and masqueraded as a student for several months before she got caught. She's an extreme example... but, then again, maybe so are you. When about three out of four Gunn alumni I know tell me that "Gunn is a terrible/unhealthy place," I'm inclined to think that there is probably something toxic about the culture there. What exactly that "something" is, or how to fix it, I may never fully understand.
But I am certain that ending this "tradition" (though one Gunn '05 alum told me that this was not a tradition when she graduated) would be a step in the right direction.
2/6/2015 07:57:24 am
2/7/2015 11:22:16 am
I actually completely agree. In order to get in to your top choice school, you have to be excellent at a lot of things -- or at least world-class at one thing. That takes a lot of talent and hard work. Making yourself stand out among so many other applicants also requires that you're very special. I didn't mean to imply that getting into your first choice school is purely luck -- just that, at a certain point, it becomes impossible to predict who will get in and who won't, and that lots of incredibly qualified, amazing applicants are irrationally excluded. That's why I think it's weird to celebrate your high school graduation by focusing on where you'll be going this fall -- it should be about where you are and who you're with now.
Another Gunn Alumnus
2/8/2015 12:23:53 pm
4/27/2017 04:46:01 am
the problem is the belief/brain-washing that college is the be-all & end-all ultimate achievement in life. it has been so strongly inculcated in the society that people without college degrees are sneered at and looked down upon as brainless disposable trash..but who is going to fix your plumbing problems?
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