By Irene Rauch, Arcadia High School Student
Once you reach a certain age, life seems to pass by without you even noticing it or being able to enjoy it. The carefree times of your youth seem to be a distant dream; reality and fantasy are blurred in a nostalgic haze, too far in the past to relive. The only solution is to cling to faint memories of simpler times, yet we know deep inside, that those days are behind us. I would know. I am one of those afflicted souls, a junior in high school. I am sixteen, thus my youth is said to be over.
Like most of my fellow students, for me these once-lovely winter months have become a hell-scape of despair, stress, and unsteady GPAs. When I am asked, “how is school going?” my standard response is to grimace and say, “you know … it’s junior year.” This tends to elicit a sympathetic frown and nod from the asker, maybe even a hug if I am looking particularly haggard or sleep-deprived. Yet my circumstances are considered acceptable in the education system; I am no different from my classmates. We check our grades online about 48 times a day. The word “finals” invokes a wave of nausea. And everybody’s favorite acronym, the SAT, brings fear-stricken parents to fork over hundreds of dollars for classes to ensure their darling A-student can ace the test and go to an Ivy League school. By our workloads and suspiciously mature work ethics, you would think we are all Supreme Court justices or business tycoons, not uncertain pubescents who are still learning the ropes. In all this chaos, our youth creeps by and before we know it – and only if we are lucky – we have a 4.0 GPA and not much else. The way things are going, we will try to tell our children about high school one day, and though we will rack our brains, there will be no lively youth to reminisce about. All we will recall is that stellar SAT score or those Coca Cola-fueled all-nighters that happened too often.
Truly, college is essential for certain careers, yet today, it is instilled in children that getting into a prestigious college is the goal of all goals, the highest honor. Our generation has been taught to spend the first 18 years of our lives preparing for the four succeeding ones. School, which is meant to be a center for learning, mental cultivation, and self-discovery, becomes an all-consuming commitment where students eat, breathe, and live with the Harvard emblem haunting them or the UCLA Bruin bear roaring, “4.0!” in their minds. This college mania begins in middle school, when it is drilled into our brains that we must already behave like high-schoolers. When that notorious high school rolls around, students are told in every class that “in college, this and this will happen.” “In college, you’ll be expected to know this.” Living in the present and enjoying life is a completely forgotten concept now; our every action is motivated by the idea that college is king. Summer no longer means relaxing by the pool, but rather taking an entire year’s worth of a course in six weeks so that one’s schedule has more room to cram Advanced Placement (AP) classes into. More AP classes equal an elevated GPA, which surmounts to higher chances of getting into that drool-worthy college with that agonizingly low acceptance rate.
Add the stress of AP exams, finals, unpredictable teachers, demanding parents, and a dangerously unhealthy four hours of sleep a night, and you have a very unstable child on your hands, a child who can rattle off all the presidents in order but cannot recall going to a football game or spending a lazy day on the couch. It is up to adults and administrators to stop trying to press the “grow-up-fast” button on their children and choose a family vacation over SAT summer prep, to pick the occasional elective over that back-breaking AP class. If parents were asked to look back on their own youths, it is unlikely that they would have it any other way.