Not the “Model Student”: High School and the Quest for Perfection

In the aftermath of my junior year of high school, I am left to ponder the next stage of my academic career. Which colleges should I apply to? What on Earth should I major in? How do I make myself sound like one of the best products of the American education system? How do I prevent myself from inconveniently breaking down at such a critical period of my life? I still don’t have all the answers, and I likely never will.

However, the truth is I have spent most of my high school years trying to be perfect and escape that dreaded option of failure and the stigma that tarnishes the worthwhile lesson it can be.

But, way more often than not, I miss the mark of perfection; despite my best intentions, I’m not the person that external standards dictate as a model for success. After all, I didn’t get all A’s, do groundbreaking scientific research, start a charitable nonprofit, or excel at a sport.

Now, I have no serious interest in cultivating my strengths in any of those things. But in the kind of school I go to, you don’t attend there for three years and not have your self-esteem take a beating from the comparisons you will inevitably draw between yourself and your peers. Many days, it feels like a restless rat race toward an end I can’t determine rather than a place for learning and cultivated curiosity.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the academic opportunities and organizations that my school has to offer; but, those opportunities sometimes feel so far away in the sense that I may never be enough and will never measure up to the demands of my studies. This isn’t just a fear shared by me but by many of my peers as well; my friends run on caffeine and insecurities and consistently stress about certain factors, such as rankings, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores.

The learning process becomes less about the human value and understanding of the world and more about the numbers game.

Ultimately, I miss having simple curiosities about the nature of numbers. I miss passing idle afternoons in worlds of literature. I miss scrawling stars on my paper and wondering what lurks among them. In short, I miss the act of learning with no strings attached.

After all, there is always knowledge waiting to be had, folded beneath a book cover or an unexplored track. It’s not unusual for me to get caught up in the wonder of finding something new. Whether it’s the study of gray wolves, Tudor history, Jane Austen novels, or the television series Black Sails, I’ve always been one to consume passion and block out anything that is contrary to it, content to wander among the halls of human curiosity.

This can be a vice and a virtue, as the emotional side of learning doesn’t always add up to the realities of work. In my case, I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am a writer, and I don’t need books under my name to prove that I am one; I just simply am. Without my writing, my compass of the world would be lost. And it’s unlikely I would ever have obtained that compass without the years of book-learning and writing that my schooling has given me. It does offer me consolation that, despite the strain put onto students like me to compete and achieve more and more, my genuine and pure love for literature and language shall never be diminished.

If I had worried more about being a Model Student, would my high school years be more of a gift? Conventional wisdom says yes; teenage years are short and fleeting, and one needs to fly alongside it to experience the joy of the ride. But, quite frankly, there are few other places that I enjoy being than in my own head; life comes to a stop, takes a break, and reads a good book there.

I don’t know how healthy that is, but I’d say education is best felt when you’re not trying to do anything except trek at your own pace.

Unfortunately, according to the general culture of my high school’s student body, the road to success is paved with rigid deadlines and inflexible measuring sticks of greatness. Everyone feels the pressure to trip over their laces just for the chance to jump ahead, even if it means committing academic dishonesty, taking more AP classes than they could handle, and losing hours of needed sleep. In many regards, it is an unhealthy and toxic environment as much as it is an ambitious and prestigious one.

So, that begs the obvious question: What now? As said before, I don’t have a concrete answer to that (I doubt most of my peers do, either), but I’m certain that my lifelong homage to stories—and the bodies of literature they preside in—will carry me to firm ground. I’m still learning the lesson that I am not an incomplete person without perfect grades and that I don’t need to follow a predetermined path to be successful in life. I can take life as it goes; it is impossible to predict what’ll come next in the long run. But that is what I consider the charm of life: the exploration of questions and my own certainty amongst the chaos, not the dead-end of definite answers.

I'm a high school student at Clements High School. I love to write across various mediums (poetry, weirdly personal Quora answers, rambling essays, etc.). I try to write what I know, but since I know very little, I have to make do with my imagination.

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Not the “Model Student”: High School and the Quest for Perfection

In the aftermath of my junior year of high school, I am left to ponder the next stage of my academic career. Which colleges should I apply to? What on Earth should I major in? How do I make myself sound like one of the best products of the American education system? How do I prevent myself from inconveniently breaking down at such a critical period of my life? I still don’t have all the answers, and I likely never will.

However, the truth is I have spent most of my high school years trying to be perfect and escape that dreaded option of failure and the stigma that tarnishes the worthwhile lesson it can be.

But, way more often than not, I miss the mark of perfection; despite my best intentions, I’m not the person that external standards dictate as a model for success. After all, I didn’t get all A’s, do groundbreaking scientific research, start a charitable nonprofit, or excel at a sport.

Now, I have no serious interest in cultivating my strengths in any of those things. But in the kind of school I go to, you don’t attend there for three years and not have your self-esteem take a beating from the comparisons you will inevitably draw between yourself and your peers. Many days, it feels like a restless rat race toward an end I can’t determine rather than a place for learning and cultivated curiosity.

Don’t get me wrong, I recognize the academic opportunities and organizations that my school has to offer; but, those opportunities sometimes feel so far away in the sense that I may never be enough and will never measure up to the demands of my studies. This isn’t just a fear shared by me but by many of my peers as well; my friends run on caffeine and insecurities and consistently stress about certain factors, such as rankings, GPA, and SAT/ACT scores.

The learning process becomes less about the human value and understanding of the world and more about the numbers game.

Ultimately, I miss having simple curiosities about the nature of numbers. I miss passing idle afternoons in worlds of literature. I miss scrawling stars on my paper and wondering what lurks among them. In short, I miss the act of learning with no strings attached.

After all, there is always knowledge waiting to be had, folded beneath a book cover or an unexplored track. It’s not unusual for me to get caught up in the wonder of finding something new. Whether it’s the study of gray wolves, Tudor history, Jane Austen novels, or the television series Black Sails, I’ve always been one to consume passion and block out anything that is contrary to it, content to wander among the halls of human curiosity.

This can be a vice and a virtue, as the emotional side of learning doesn’t always add up to the realities of work. In my case, I know that, in my heart of hearts, I am a writer, and I don’t need books under my name to prove that I am one; I just simply am. Without my writing, my compass of the world would be lost. And it’s unlikely I would ever have obtained that compass without the years of book-learning and writing that my schooling has given me. It does offer me consolation that, despite the strain put onto students like me to compete and achieve more and more, my genuine and pure love for literature and language shall never be diminished.

If I had worried more about being a Model Student, would my high school years be more of a gift? Conventional wisdom says yes; teenage years are short and fleeting, and one needs to fly alongside it to experience the joy of the ride. But, quite frankly, there are few other places that I enjoy being than in my own head; life comes to a stop, takes a break, and reads a good book there.

I don’t know how healthy that is, but I’d say education is best felt when you’re not trying to do anything except trek at your own pace.

Unfortunately, according to the general culture of my high school’s student body, the road to success is paved with rigid deadlines and inflexible measuring sticks of greatness. Everyone feels the pressure to trip over their laces just for the chance to jump ahead, even if it means committing academic dishonesty, taking more AP classes than they could handle, and losing hours of needed sleep. In many regards, it is an unhealthy and toxic environment as much as it is an ambitious and prestigious one.

So, that begs the obvious question: What now? As said before, I don’t have a concrete answer to that (I doubt most of my peers do, either), but I’m certain that my lifelong homage to stories—and the bodies of literature they preside in—will carry me to firm ground. I’m still learning the lesson that I am not an incomplete person without perfect grades and that I don’t need to follow a predetermined path to be successful in life. I can take life as it goes; it is impossible to predict what’ll come next in the long run. But that is what I consider the charm of life: the exploration of questions and my own certainty amongst the chaos, not the dead-end of definite answers.

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