Deerfield Academy has the reputation of being one of the best prep schools in the world. With that reputation come expectations set by those both within and outside our community.
The administration wants students to excel to attain a high ranking on Business Insider’s list of America’s Most Elite Prep Schools. The Admissions Office wants us to go to a “great college” to amaze applicants with an impressive matriculation list. Teachers want students to do well in their class because often others see students’ grades as a reflection on the instructor. Parents want their kids to do well because they are paying up to $54,000 a year to send their children to this elite institution, and they want to get their money’s worth (and see their kids succeed).
We want to do well not only because these towering expectations are set for us by others, but also because we have our futures in mind. We want to get into a good college so we can work in the field we feel passionate about and, eventually, be “successful,” whatever that means. With so much pressure to succeed, how can a Deerfield student go through four years here without feeling stressed?
Mr. Flaska recently pointed out that stress does not come from within ourselves. The Merriam-Webster definition of stress is as follows: “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.; something that causes strong feelings of worry or anxiety.” By definition, stress is imposed on us by problems in our world that cause anxiety within us. Yes, stress comes from the outside.
But why would that make stress at Deerfield unwarranted? We are so fortunate to be part of a community that values learning as Deerfield does, but just because we are “privileged” does not mean that our stressors are illegitimate. Assuming that Deerfield students who say they are stressed are merely doing so because others are saying so makes students feel like our problems don’t matter, and our worries are unjustified.
On top of the overwhelming pressure to be diligent students, dedicated athletes, prolific artists, global citizens, community builders and more, kids here have lives outside of school, too. Just because Deerfield students are lucky enough to attend an elite prep school doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with family issues, eating disorders, abusive relationships, heartbreak, peer pressure, death and more. I point out the combination of these stressful realities and the pressure mentioned above in order to emphasize that our problems are real. Stress is stress, regardless of the cause; and while a little bit of stress can be healthy, the toll that stress takes on Deerfield students is often more detrimental to our mental and physical being than is beneficial.
Rather than denouncing students’ worries as gratuitous, we should take the initiative to help our peers through this inherently awkward and scary growth period we call adolescence, and do our best to alleviate the pressures imposed on students at Deerfield.
Teachers, you can do your part by sticking to the allotted 50 minutes of homework a night. Next time you ask me why I look so tired, consider whether or not it was your 47 pages of reading that had me up until 2 a.m., scared to ask for an extension because of fear of failure. The College Advising office can reassure us that there are more than 10 great colleges in the world. A school that society thinks is the best may not be best for me—remind me of that. Students, we can all help each other through stressful times by being there for each other and making our community one that everyone wants to be a part of.
If Deerfield truly is committed to becoming a “drug-free school,” these are the things we need to focus on rather than blaming the media or other potential factors. Calling a dorm drug-free is not going to get drugs out of that dorm. Committing to ridding our campus of drugs isn’t about getting the physical drugs off campus, it’s about getting rid of the reasons students are turning to drugs in the first place. Students might not abuse Adderall if they didn’t feel they couldn’t do their homework alone. We might not smoke if we didn’t need an escape from our high-strung campus. We might not drink if we were happier at Deerfield.
In short, we all know what a remarkable place Deerfield is. Each one of us chose to come here over every other prestigious high school. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. In order to make our school an even better place, we first must acknowledge that students have the right to be stressed. We have this right because the struggles that come with being a Deerfield student and a teenager are not easy, and knowing we’re fortunate to be here isn’t always enough to lessen that stress.
Every member of this community can do something to make life at Deerfield a little less demanding, and a little happier. Diminishing the culture of stress at Deerfield is a more effective way of addressing problems like drugs, eating disorders, depression, etc., than attacking these issues merely on the surface. If we can dispel the belief that Deerfield expects perfection from its students and acknowledge that school is only one part of our lives, we will all be in a better position to appreciate the amazing opportunities that Deerfield has to offer and live healthier, more relaxed lives.