Today, college has become closely associated with competition. At Deerfield, students of already incredibly high caliber are competing to be the biggest fish in the ocean. Here, even the smallest things become a competition because many of those small things we do are for the purpose of getting into a top university.
Healthy competition is great: it pushes us to be the best we can possibly be. But in the words of John D. Rockefeller, “Unhealthy competition is a sin.” Students at prep schools vie for spots in colleges and many will do whatever it takes to get there, whether that means starting a club just to talk about it in an interview or participating in community service just to beef up a resume. It seems that there is a major flaw in the college application process: as certain schools get more and more selective, applicants become more and more susceptible to empty commitments.
Deerfield students are known to overextend themselves as it is, taking rigorous courses and participating in both co-curricular and extracurricular activities throughout the school year. Yet some are still trying to knock the rest out of the field, to rise up to be the cream of the crop. To some extent, we all fall prey to this competitive spirit, but when we let competition and comparison consume us, we lose sight of what really matters: the invaluable opportunity to make a real difference.
These opportunities that Deerfield students have to make an impact are often seen as mere stepping stones to college. Many students will travel on a service trip, attend a conference, or take advantage of any of the countless opportunities we are offered but then never speak of or act on what they learned afterwards. Unfortunately, it seems that many do it just to say they did it, not for the sole purpose of affecting positive change in the world. But we can make an impact, starting with the slightest alterations.
One of our peer schools, Phillips Academy Andover, recently made an amendment to their community service department. Instead of using the word “service,” which has come to negatively connote obligation, they now use the word “engagement.” This change might seem minor, but it can have a major impact on the overall outlook of the department and its participants. Instead of looking upon service as a duty, as something students have to do because their school or college advisor tells them to, students are encouraged to look upon “engagement” as an opportunity: an opportunity not to increase your appeal as a college applicant, but as an oppurtunity to appreciate and give back to a community that does nothing but give to you. When you help others for the purpose of helping yourself, nobody is really being helped at all.
What most overlook as they go through the motions of “helping others” and “doing good” is why they are helping. If true interest and enthusiasm do not drive our actions, then our accomplishments, regardless of how seemingly great they may be, lose meaning. We might receive an award or a title but we will not have received it for the right reasons: we will not truly have been a catalyst for the greater good. As philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said, “Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion.”
With these words, we advise you to find your passion, foster and explore it. Find something or even a few things that you genuinely take interest in, and run with them. Don’t just go through the motions: do things that mean something to you. In the end, our achievements, our legacies will be measured not by the colleges that we got into, but by the positive and productive impact that we had on the world around us.