Two Gunn High School graduates are attempting to change the virtually unattainable concept of success that the Palo Alto community has long struggled with. Michal Pasternak and Jacqueline Gowen, both of whom graduated from Gunn in 1997, founded the website Paths From Palo Alto as a way for Paly and Gunn graduates to share the stories of their post-Palo Alto lives.
As detailed on the website’s ‘About’ page, the purpose of Paths is to “shatter the myth that we believed growing up — that our career and life follow one linear path with the end goal of achieving one universal definition of success.”
“Our hope is to inspire people and expose them to all the different paths there are out there,” Gowen said.
The Palo Alto community’s current ideal of success can most aptly be characterized as a multitude of extracurricular accomplishments and an impeccable school transcript, resulting in entrance to an elite college, and eventually a high paying job.
Paly junior Josh Code believes that the definition of success in Palo Alto is already transforming.
“I think it’s changing,” Code said. “I think that it’s changing from being based on college and prestige to more doing what makes you happy. It’s no longer about going to the best college you got into, but rather making the choice that’s best for you.”
The project has received some criticism from the community for supposedly attempting to steer students away from attending prestigious universities. The founders of Paths steadfastly deny these accusations.
“That is not our goal at all,” Pasternak said. “It’s really more to let people see that their life is more under their control than they might realize, and that they can tailor certain choices, like where to go to school, for themselves.”
Aside from the aforementioned criticisms, the community’s response to Paths project has been largely positive.
“We got some feedback from a few local high schoolers before we launched,” Gowen said. “They said that it gave them hope that there were this many different definitions of success.”
Paths’ founders were also pleasantly surprised by the amount of Paly and Gunn alumni that have shared their stories. Story submissions have been flooding in from former Palo Alto students of all generations and occupations.
“It’s a really broad group,” Pasternak said. “We’ve had people who have taken the very traditional path, and we’ve had people who have have found success in very unconventional ways.”
ASB Vice President Anmol Nagar applauds the efforts of Pasternak and Gowen to change Palo Altan values.
“It’s interesting to see what other people define as success with their diverse backgrounds in high school and college because it fleshes them out as real people who aren’t perfect but are still successful,” Nagar said.
Looking forward, Paths hopes to continue presenting Palo Alto’s students with an array of options for the future. They also plan on increasing student involvement with the project, in order to have as many students as possible connect with different alumni stories.
“We are really looking to evolve the experience, and continue to grow and experiment,” Pasternak said. “We want to touch people, and give them the answers they are looking for.”