Honored: Stress & Celebration at the Senior Assembly

Submitted by Mia Kittredge on Fri, 05/04/2018 - 14:18 - 0 Comments
Have you been admitted to college yet?
Alongside asking if someone is pregnant, this is one of the worst questions to ask the wrong person. After an awkward pause, a stressed-out high school student will respond with a grimace or a sigh. The high-stakes college admissions process forces students to compete with their peers in order to determine their future, so even just talking about it may cause students to melt into a puddle on the floor. Therefore, a two-hour-long assembly celebrating Seniors’ high school accomplishments and future plans is bound to be controversial. 
Sophomore Zoe Fanning sums up the two perspectives towards this assembly. She sees that “there is a benefit to the Senior assembly and seeing the Senior class graduate and recognizing that accomplishment... because that’s part of being a community.” 
“But,” she carefully explains, “at the same time, it can be alienating if the path that you want after high school isn’t college. Or, if you feel like school isn’t something that is your strong suit… Watching people who are the ideal of this system at Lincoln and then feeling unconnected from that can be difficult to process.”
When interviewed, Ms. Chapman said, “The academic, athletic  and community service awards inspire me and hopefully serve as inspiration to our underclassmen... The message should be there’s a right college, career and pathway for each and every student and the majority of students seem to enthusiastically celebrate their peers for a host of diverse choices and plans for post Lincoln life.” 
Leadership teacher Ms. Accetta adds, “The whole aim of the Senior assembly is to celebrate students. And it’s not to celebrate our top valedictorian students, it’s not to celebrate just a small number, it’s to celebrate everyone.” 
The faculty has already worked hard to address the stressful nature of the assembly and limit unhealthy comparisons.One of the most controversial parts of the assembly is the slideshow, which showcases the students’ future colleges, as well as gap year or military service options. This slideshow used to include students’ names, but the faculty recognized that this could be very uncomfortable for students. Now, students can choose whether they want to stand up and be honored for their plans. 
Ms. Accetta also notes that Lincoln is “a very academic school, very rigorous” and so when she started teaching here four years ago, “just a small percentage of the students were getting recognized… and that was not the goal.” Ms. Chapman emphasizes, “It is cool to be smart, involved, and follow your passions and people can be smart in so many different ways.” Therefore, the school has worked to add non-academic and non-athletic awards such as the Anti-Bullying and Social Justice awards to show the many ways students can take leadership positions in and outside of the classroom.
Lincoln is still trying to find new ways to improve this assembly. From a more practical standpoint, the assembly is insanely long. For this reason, the faculty is discussing adding an evening assembly, which more parents could attend, in order to shorten the daytime assembly. However, as Ms. Accetta puts it, “Any time you try to change anything at Lincoln, you have so many people that are like ‘No! That’s the way we’ve done if for forever. And we sat through a two-hour assembly. The freshmen need to sit through it too.’” 
Additionally, by recognizing the difficulty of the college admission process, we could band together as a community. Ms. Accetta has a really great idea: “Some schools have this really fun thing where they have a dart board up, and they throw all their rejection letters up there... And at the Senior Sunrise, or Sunset, they have a big bonfire, where they burn all of them, which I think would be so fun.” 
However, simple tweaks may not be enough. The uncomfortable feelings associated with the assembly are symptoms of underlying issues. Ms. Accetta believes that “students are now going off to college and experiencing the highest amount of depression and anxiety because it’s never enough” and that “this comes from our society… from what we’re drilled in all the time.” This never-enough feeling is from perfectionism, the overwhelming need to always look and act perfectly, coupled with the belief that others are managing to achieve this perfection. Achieving perfection is impossible, which leads to great feelings of inadequacy and anxiety about the smallest mistakes. 
Through this lens, the assembly showcases others’ supposed perfection and  exacerbates the feeling of inadequacy. But, it is not the cause. As Ms. Chapman says, “there is research that suggests we need to work harder to help students build the skills that help build inner confidence so that they don’t feel ‘less than’ or ‘more than’ when peers make different choices based on individual interests and strengths.” It is important to remember that perfect appearances are deceptive. While the college admission process encourages competition, using others as a standard for personal achievements will never be beneficial. 
The faculty members welcome student involvement. “We really need to listen to our students to know what is working and not working,” Ms. Chapman explains. “We need to make sure we support our most anxious or self-doubting to feel confident and proud of their unique strengths and growth here at Lincoln.”
“The more the better!” Ms. Accetta agrees. “Anyone who has any ideas about stress relief bring it on and let’s make it happen.”

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