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Tone Down the Tiger This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Life, especially school life, is becoming increasingly harder for Asian-American kids. Take my brother, for example. A precocious young boy, he was an artful slacker with a knack for assimilating knowledge despite typical teenage addictions like Gameboy and Facebook. His accolades could drown a full-grown whale: his PSAT and SAT were the top of his class (he had already, by current standards, achieved a score of 2360 in the eighth grade), president of Science Olympiad and Key Club his senior year, Biology and Chemistry Olympiad semifinalist, passed the AMC 10 and 12, the concertmaster of the much-lauded San Diego Young Symphony Philharmonia – the list is staggering. Now he is a Phi Beta Kappa awardee and a graduate of Harvard University.

Such a wonderful student is held up as a shining example of what Asian parenting does to kids who respond positively to it. Several kids around me have earned equal merits and gone on to great colleges. My friend's brother is at Cornell. Another friend from Indiana got into Harvard. Oe girl got into Stanford. Their achievements are constantly given as examples for other Asian children to follow.

What results from the role-modeling and comparing is a debacle for a lot of Asian-American kids. The route these amazing Ivy Leaguers took along their shining road of high school is processed by parents and given to children as the official high school schedule. She took the Chemistry SAT II and the Mathematics SAT II in sophomore year? All right then, my child will do the same. He passed both AMCs freshman year? No problem – my child will pass – beat this – in eighth grade. They were in Key Club and DECA and Kiwinis? Perfect – my son/daughter will be joining these clubs and doing the same projects and running for the same positions!

This increasingly standardized schedule for high school is set. Some kids will succeed; some will fail miserably. As more Asian-American kids follow this formula, colleges notice the almost machine accurate résumés, as if they came from the same person. Recently, a subject of controversy has been the concept of affirmative action. Legal, adult jargon aside, affirmative action basically racially profiles the soon-to-be graduating student, and uses ethnicity as a factor to determine whether the student is accepted by a university.

Affirmative action put the whole Asian-American community in an uproar. This would make Ivy League colleges and universities an even more unattainable goal. They protested that it would give racial minorities an unfair advantage. Petitions were passed and signed by indignant parents who wanted the best for their children. E-mails circulated enlightening those ignorant of such atrocious news and called for a ban on this disaster. Still, the law would not budge, and Asian-American students strove harder to garner more attention, more awards, and more certificates to adorn their résumés.

The bar is propelled higher. A perfect SAT score is, in colloquial terms, NBD – no big deal. A SAT II score of lower than 800 is frowned upon. A 5 on the AP test is again, no big deal. Parents get increasingly paranoid with rumors that the average GPA for a UC Berkeley applicant is a 4.6 (don't panic – that's totally bogus). SAT boot camp no longer starts junior year; it begins earlier for Asian-Americans. Freshman year, maybe even eighth grade. Parents push students to take more APs and fewer honors to boost their GPA. There is an increasing comparison of what he did, what she got, what you should do. There's more competition, and friendships fall apart as one friend outstrips the other.

This is getting out of hand.

Parents, you are killing your kids. Please, for the sake of our health and happiness, tone down the tiger. We are studying 'til 2 or 3, struggling to keep up with the ever-heavier burden of our classes. Some of us are pulling all-nighters just to maintain good grades. We no longer have time to enjoy ourselves and are becoming grade-homework-essay robots just for the sake of getting into an Ivy League school. We are scared of the threat that without awards and honors, we will be working late-night shifts at Burger King. We are resentful of your zingers and constant comparisons to your friends' kids.

It hurts so much. For the mediocre Asian-American student, the weight of disgrace and dishonor is back-breaking. No matter the effort, it is difficult to reach these ­impossible heights. We want to do well, but the problem is, we simply can't put up with your caterwauling about our terrible grades, our terrible lives, our terrible futures. For the rebellious Asian-American student, the curtailing of basic human rights – the most important being the right to pursue happiness – is tremendously resented. We want to follow our interests: perhaps music, drawing, or writing. However, there are too many instances in which parents push in their desired track toward a medical degree, a law firm, or a job on Wall Street.

Asian kids, there is one Internet meme that is so poignant that every time I think about it, tears come to my eyes: YOLO, you only live once. What do you really want? What do your parents want? There comes a time when there's a limit to what you can do, and you need to realize this. And there also is a time when you realize what you're doing is not what you want. When you have that epiphany that the 15-16 APs, sports, and extracurriculars are too much, you need to voice your concerns and relax a bit.

A speech at some high school has recently been circulated in the media. One quote resonated with me. This teacher stated that the cliché “everyone is special” is no longer applicable since so many students are taking the same road, the same avenue to “success.” The ones who diverge from that main road are truly special.

Will you be the one who takes the road less traveled? Will you be the one who says “no” to that standardized schedule for high school success? Will you be the one who takes a chance to pursue your heart's desire?

It's your choice.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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