Staff Editorial: Sprint for valedictorian status prioritizes grade over learning

They tell us to try our best, to have realistic rigor, but no matter what is preached to us at our scheduling meetings, we are all stuck in a race with a clear finish line. Your number matters, and only one contestant can emerge victorious.

Communities like Mason have been promising to mitigate stress for years, but how can we when our stressors are what we refuse to give up? Having trouble balancing 6 APs, three College Credit Plus courses, 852 hours of community service, and six leadership titles? Stop sleeping. Stop eating dinner with your family. Stop living. But bypass Physics: Electricity & Magnetism? Not a chance.

Never mind the skills we need in the workforce are not always physics computations. Though Mason is a Googleplex, many businesses still prioritize the Microsoft Office suite. An ability to use Microsoft Excel – and a real one, not one we fudge on our resume because we know the program is the green icon – is an asset, yet so many of us would rather take AP Chemistry than Honors Microsoft Office.

We cursed our administrators for forcing Enhanced Communication Applications (ECA) upon us, wishing we had that crucial extra block to pack in just one more honors course. But as we interview for that top school or dream job, the extra .03 on our high school GPA may be forgotten when our interviewers focus on our ability to coherently speak. When the W-2 arrived in the mail, we complained that high school does not prepare you for the real world, yet we credit-flexed financial literacy to meet a graduation requirement instead of taking the time to learn.

Offering more than 20 AP classes, Mason is a homing beacon for the ambitious. Our community demands greatness, accepting nothing less. What is the harm, however, in taking advantage of Mason’s resources in our areas of interest? Many rising seniors applying to be on the Chronicle staff tell us the reason they waited to apply until now is because “I just couldn’t fit it in.” Our shared priority is Honors Diploma requirements, not happiness requirements.

We do not think to take AP classes only in English and History, if those are our passions, or chemistry and medical sciences, if those are what inspire us. Never mind that balance, our “realistic rigor” mantra, may allow us six hours of sleep per night, rather than per week. According to a report by Penn State University’s Department for Undergraduate Studies, 20 to 50 percent of college freshman enter undecided. Why? Perhaps because many students are too busy packing in the AP classes that they never discover what they like.

Lately we have even passed on our toxic academic culture to the middle school, where formerly high school courses such as Algebra I and Physical Science have landed. Welcome to the race, we say, how fast are your shoes? That’s not much of a high school tour, if we may say so ourselves. Are these classes to get ahead, or to learn more in your high school career? The former, likely.

We are not the sore losers of a four-year sprint to the graduation podium, quibbling about our losses and parroting that if we can not be the valedictorian, no one should either. We respect the brilliance of our peers, and after growing up in Mason, a community in which good is never good enough, we know what it is like to try your hardest only to come up 52nd best. We recognize, however, that brilliance does not always wear a 5.0+ GPA.

The University of Southern California rejected Steven Spielberg three times. Michael Jordan said he missed “more than 9,000 shots in (his) career.” Thirty publishers rejected Stephen King’s “Carrie.” A failure to immediately rise to number one does not mean we can never do so, nor that we cannot channel our passions into incredible careers.

We are not hammering the Valedictorians – they are important and high-achieving students who help our school district grow. Enough is enough, however, when the stakes are high and students lose focus on what the true goal of school: learning. Academics have been turned into a game to get the highest grade, not to actually retain information.

So, to the valedictorians of Mason past, present, and future, we wish you well. Conquer your elite universities and change the world. But to those of us who lost the race, or perhaps did not even enter, we hope you find what you spend all of high school looking for – that calling greater than any number.