Walking into Minnehaha Academy high school, there is a reason the freshmen are the first group of people you see. Eager and excited for their new experiences in high school, they sit in their hallway with their nice outfits and grins on their faces. As you make your way up the stairs, you see the sophomores who have lost the pep in their step, but are still managing to keep themselves together. Last come the juniors and seniors, hiding on the second floor in the same clothes they wore last week and a coffee or energy drink in their hand. Stressed about college and their unknown futures, they are overwhelmed. They have reached a point of exhaustion, where grades and memorization are more important than actual retention of knowledge, and are living in a world where being perfect isn’t good enough.
When this pressure sets in, Economics teacher David Hoffner, sees two different types of people.
“What I see consistently, on a year to year basis, is that the level of [time commitment to] college applications, sports, music and school is that some people just shut down and they aren’t stressed. They just think ‘if I have to spin all these plates, I’m just going to let some drop’ and they don’t care. But other students are really stressed. I can see it in parent conferences, some parents will say ‘I can’t get my kid to care’ or ‘I can’t get my kid to sleep’.”
Junior Andrew Johnson is trying to find that balance between working hard and not pushing himself too far.
“It’s hard for me to prioritize because I always want to be the best at everything,” said Johnson. “I want everything to be the best it can [be] but sometimes I have to think ‘this will have to lack’ or ‘you will just have to be fine with it’. I’m somewhat of a perfectionist so I don’t like that but that’s where the stress comes from.”
However, that self-pressure comes from the over-arching pressure from society.
“To get into college at this point, you have to be perfect and even if you are perfect it’s not guaranteed you are going to get in,” said senior Poppy Anema. “It is so much of a raffle now-a-days and that’s a huge pressure.”
Society has changed. It has become harder to get a job even with a college degree, and that is what’s driving this generation to overwork themselves. Students want a guarantee.
“Now a college degree does not mean a job,” said vice principal Mike DiNardo. “The stress is really the unknowns, that lack of people knowing what their job will be or where they will go.”
Because of this lack of unknowns, Hoffner isn’t worried about that AP test. Instead he is worried about learning.
“I don’t skip things that won’t be on the AP test that I think are important because I want to teach you a great economics class,” said Hoffner.
DiNardo agreed by saying students should learn everything they can to be prepared for that uncertain future.
“Beth Wade (‘00) who spoke in chapel [3 Oct.] was your typical straight A student here at Minnehaha,” said DiNardo. “She was going off to do great things and she said learn everything you can because you never know when you’re going to use it. Don’t be so set on only studying this and only knowing this. It’s really important to become well rounded.”
Anema realizes this and that’s why she challenges herself so often.
“I work hard in class because I want to learn the material because I’m really interested in it and eventually I know it will be really applicable to what I will be doing,” said Anema. “For example, right now I have to learn physics. Even though it’s tough and maybe I won’t get an A, I just have to keep working on it.”
But Anema’s thirst for learning can be forgotten in society today.
“I don’t enjoy the pressure. Not even the pressure to get into college but the pressure to do well and be the best,” said Anema. “You can’t let yourself slip at all. This inhibits what I like about school which is sitting in class and just getting a different perspective on the world. It’s really difficult when in the back of my mind I’m thinking I need to know this for the test. You are learning for the test and not for the sake of learning.”
AP United States History and Government teacher Matt Ridenour wishes he could just teach without the grade but that’s not how the world works.
“I wish I could just give gold stars, pats on the back and criticism that leads to a greater understanding,” said Ridenour. “On some level there are parts of me that wish that were the case but we don’t live in that kind of a world, colleges need grades. Frankly grading is ‘what do you know’, as well as ‘have you worked [hard in the class]?’ but also ‘what have you gotten out of that?’.”
We at the Talon staff, believe that society and our own student body has put a lot of pressure on high school students which is driving people to freak out and give up. This pressure to be the best rather than doing your best isn’t healthy for high school students, but society isn’t going to change. We have to find a way to balance our lives with our work and also what we enjoy. We, as students, have to remember stress shouldn’t control our lives, but it should drive us to do our best and then be happy with the end result.