SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21ST, 2019

When the five of us stepped into the Editor-in-Chief role a year ago, we knew the next 12 months of our lives would be a whirlwind of breaking news and deadlines, picas and headlines. We expected to be immersed in the culture of The Campanile and knew many of our nights would be spent in a computer lab with a bizarre juxtaposition between the teenage spirit of throbbing EDM music and an intense atmosphere of dedication. However, what we didn’t predict was the profound impact serving as editors would have on our lives and our perception of the Paly community.

The work and energy put into a publication isn’t limited to the time spent editing stories and designing pages during production. The Campanile seeped into our everyday life, and as we embraced our role as editors, we found that the position influenced how we view Paly culture.

Paly is an incredible school. The resources we have access to — whether it be state-of-the-art facilities, intelligent and passionate teachers or a staff that genuinely cares about student well-being — are unparalleled. We are incredibly grateful to have spent the last four years here.

However, it is undeniable that the culture within the student body can be improved. Whatever you wish to call it — toxic, competitive, cut-throat — the dynamic set by skewed values can result in students missing out on a crucial part of the high school experience: building relationships, discovering passions and developing soft skills.

Throughout our time at Paly, we’ve witnessed — and, admittedly, sometimes contributed to — the ugliest parts of this culture. Paly fosters a goal-oriented student mindset, and we often allowed this mindset to dictate our own self-worth and our view of our peers. As seniors, we have emerged from the dark cloud of the college admissions process and have witnessed firsthand the way that it erodes one’s sense of value and place.

Frankly, no one can be blamed for valuing the glitz and glamour of a prestigious institution or high GPA. But there’s more to being human than achievement — we think the drive for traditional measures of validation can force students to miss some of the most valuable lessons and experiences high school can offer.

The carrot of college corrupts.

Every three weeks, our publication gets to see 21 days of hard work manifest itself in print. This process, which means so much to all of us, could not take place if we were all pursuing individual ends. Being part of a team where every person is integral to the final product has given us a glimpse of what really matters in a work environment. We have not been perfect leaders. But after 12 months full of mistakes and occasionally clouded judgement, it’s nice to know we have emerged more mature, resilient and confident in our ability to face the world.

Solving a difficult differential equation or regurgitating the details of the Crittenden Compromise can be satisfying, as can earning high scores or receiving awards. But there is something equally fulfilling, if not more so, in succeeding as a group and knowing those around you are just as invested and have worked just as hard. The skills necessary to form such a dynamic — effective communication, collaboration, interpersonal respect — cannot be taught. They come from experience, experience which is not cultivated in high school unless students actively seek it out.

The majority of our student body’s current system of values prioritizes a competitive cycle of chasing unfulfilling goals, fueling a rat race that can continue throughout one’s entire life. There is nothing wrong with pursuing prestige, whether it be at an elite university or a high paying job — these things can better one’s life, and wanting them is not a sign of greed.

However, a healthy life has space within it to do something for its own sake, knowing full well that it may not bear long-term fruit. We couldn’t be here, 10 issues in, without loving every bit of our jobs — every three-hour-long video call, every iteration of “Mo Bamba” in the lab, every time we saw our work in print. This activity and the outlet it provides has helped many of us through difficult periods in our lives or academic careers and kept us afloat. Having something in your life you can love for its own sake is freeing.

The burden of improving Paly culture ultimately falls on students — administrators and teachers can only do so much. It is the responsibility of students to spend time on things that matter to them, and it is the responsibility of their peers to not judge them for it. At Paly, we’ve created a culture of achievement. But sometimes, the superficial glory of goal-oriented accomplishment isn’t enough to make someone happy on its own.

For all five of us, serving as an editor has been the most rewarding experience of our time at Paly — it has pushed us to learn and grow beyond what we ever expected. We are humbled to have received a platform so large and hope we have made the best use of this opportunity.

As student journalists, our primary goal is to inform. But throughout our time as editors, we  hope you’ve pictured The Campanile as a window into the culture and issues that define the Paly experience. As our tenure ends, we hope The Campanile can continue being the outlet for student voices we love and cherish.

Through administrative scandals, community outrage and celebrations of the best parts of Palo Alto, we would like to thank you all so much for reading over the last year.

Sincerely,

Ethan, Kaylie, Leyton, Ujwal and Waverly

5 Responses

  1. Cherri Nelson

    My daughter graduated from Paly in 1993. During her senior year there was constantly talk by teachers, admins, and at PTA aboutlessening the tremendous, competitive pressure on students to get into a top college. My daughter was accepted into an eastern college at Simmons College in MA. Attending the scholarship and awards ceremony, my daughter was granted an amount towards tuition and books. But, I sat there horrified as teachers named only the top colleges a student was going to while handing an award such as Harvard, Princeton etc.
    I don’t care if a student is going to a 2-year technical school if it was hard work for them to get there and/or their passion. I was utterly appalled that the very same teachers who would talk about lifting the competitive college pressure were the ones who excitedly announce only the top colleges for students attending them.
    I truly applaud your effort not to contribute to the college admissions pressure on Paly students by not publishing a list of the colleges they’re going to. It’s 20+ years long overdue for this particular form of pressure to stop.

    Reply
  2. Amelie

    Just found this through NYTimes feature. You made an excellent choice!! I applaud your wisdom and bravery in removing this unnecessary and unhelpful focus on competition and status markers. I hope your statement is read by many! Congratulations to all the grads! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Stacey Bellis

    Bravo. Thoughtful, well-written editorial. It is a refreshing perspective.

    Reply
  4. Margaret Foster

    I think declining to publish the university bound map is wise. Although the map is a symptom it is also an enabler. It reinforces the value of competing for certain goals and denigrates the achievements of others.
    All graduates should be recognized for their future choices. People going off to the elite universities made a certain effort. That same or greater effort was probably made by other students with different results .
    Highlighting achievements of students disadvantaged financially, culturally or socially might be more inspirational.
    Palo Alto High School has made many marks during the decades since I attended. I remember when we elected Jay Price as student body president. He was African American and it did make waves with parents. It opened eyes and started discussions. Your decision could be one of those slight efforts that brings a larger shift in awareness.
    Best of outcomes to all of you.
    Margaret Foster

    Reply
  5. Jon Ericson

    Am reading the student editors statement from the perspective of a former Stanford faculty member and a retired Dean of Liberal Arts at Cal Poly, SLO. The message is deeply insightful and profoundly important….that high school students see with clarity what most of us seniors are still grappling with gives me renewed hope for the future. Thank you Ethan, Kaylie, Leyton, Ojwai, and Waverly.

    Reply

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