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Why students are burning out

Second semester is coming to an end. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams, summer break and college are on the horizon. As the days pass, I can’t help but notice that I’m burning out, or perhaps I have a case of senioritis. Both are characterized by loss of motivation in former interests and daily tasks. Both are caused by caving into environmental pressures, lack of a clear, end goal and a questionable education system. Changing the system is difficult, but it’s possible.  

Undeniably, the Walnut student body is a high-achieving, stressed group. Many of us load our plates with AP/IB classes, sports, extracurriculars, clubs and volunteer work. I, for example, take 3 AP classes, lead the school newspaper, run cross country and track and volunteer at an animal hospital. Usually, my day begins at 6:45 a.m. when my alarm goes off. I have to drop my sister off at morning lab. Practice ends between 4 and 5 p.m., and sometimes, I have to stay in Publications to finish a deadline. Then, it’s studying until 11:30 p.m. or midnight. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. That’s what it feels like.

For years, many of us have been drilled with the concept that high grades, rigorous coursework and exemplary participation in extracurriculars will grant us a ticket into the nation’s top colleges. Does the word “well-rounded” sound familiar? Parents, teachers and counselors pressure us and do so rightfully. To an extent, we hold high expectations for ourselves as well. As an inexperienced freshman, I was sold. For three years I blindly adhered to this mentality. If I wasn’t passionate about a class, then I convinced myself to develop a passion for it.

On top of that, we’re teenagers; this time of our life fills with questions of identity, mood swings and the establishment of our values and principles. No doubt, it’s stressful. As much as we think can do everything, our bodies aren’t machines. We need sleep and time for ourselves and social interaction. Without such essentials, high school can be taxing and depressing, and over time, our deteriorating physical health and academic performance reflect it.

The lack of a clear, defined goal and the steps needed to reach it hamper our performance. A few weeks ago, my AP psychology teacher asked the class to think of what motivated us and share it with our neighbors. It took several minutes for us to come to a conclusion, and the responses included college acceptance, money, good grades and a well-paying career. These are goals, but to my disappointment, they were vague and general. We don’t have a clear idea of who we want to become. As a result, there’s nothing holding us accountable to reaching the goals, and we may find ourselves giving up or getting distracted. Furthermore, goals, such as getting into a good college, are being seen as the “final destination.” But it’s not. There’s more in life after college: a career, marriage, a family… the list is endless.  

Colleges’ encouragement for students to be “well-rounded” and “unique” not only fails to identify qualified applicants but also adds immense pressure on applicants. Unique has lost its meaning. There are countless class or club presidents, thousands of talented musicians and hundreds of students traveling to third-world countries for humanitarian work. A high rank or financially-demanding opportunity fails to examine a candidate’s true personality. What is he like as a person? What are his morals? And most importantly, is he actually passionate about what he does? As much as we may want to deny it, many colleges actually select individuals with high grades, test scores and a rigorous course load.

Many of us took a class either because we “had” to or it had an AP or IB label marked next to it. I’m disappointed that I’ve followed this illusion. I’m not discrediting anyone who enjoys the benefits of a tough, enriching education. (There are many.) However, I’m left wondering whether I’ve truly enjoyed my high school years. I realized that I could’ve invested more time in doing things I’m passionate about, such as running more miles, playing more video games or spending more time with my friends.

The key to changing the system is to change our mentality toward education. As a result, I’ve been spending more time doing the things that I enjoy. I hope that all students, and future students of high school, who are reading this will find time to explore their interests and create a vision of where they want to go with their lives. Academics and extracurriculars aren’t the most important things in life. A clear defined goal and motivation are the ingredients for success.

By Phillip Leung, Staff writer
Editorial Cartoon by Justine Constantino