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Fenced In

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When asked why they work so hard in school, every one of my friends responded, “to get into a good college.” After they were asked why that is, they answered, “so that I can tell people I go there,” “so that I don’t disappoint my parents,” and, “so that I don’t feel like a failure.”




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Scarsdale students are lucky; we receive only the best. We get the best possible education, the best possible opportunities, and the best possible chance to carry on our parents’ legacies. From the time we are babies, we are prodded along a fixed path, like $5 a ride petting zoo ponies, which will ultimately enable us to achieve Scarsdale’s version of success. However, as we plod along the circular pony path, we soon start to wonder where it is taking us.

Starting before we are old enough for Scarsdale Schools, we learn what it is like to live in a community of strivers. We watch as our parents fake a sad smile after returning home from work exhausted and depressed, we listen as they argue over money, and we feel the air in a room grow rigid and cold when their conversation shifts to the topic of their children’s futures. As we get older, we become aware of the community’s high expectation of us and we discover the value of an “A”. Before we know it, we’re in High School - “it actually counts” - and suddenly, or maybe not so suddenly, our lives become a whirlwind of schoolwork, sports, community service, and clubs. By the time we’re juniors, talk of college and the future dominate as we attempt to justify our stress levels, our lack of sleep, and our participation in activities we no longer, or never did, enjoy. Our parents urge us on, “it’ll all be worth it once you get into a good college,” and we become so focused on maintaining our high GPAs and building the perfect transcript that we overlook our infinite opportunities for learning and we stop caring about all the details that make life worthwhile. Shuffling through the SHS hallways with our shoulders stooped and our hands bunched up in our oversized sweatshirts, we become ghosts of our old selves.

Although the expectations placed upon us by our families and our community are relentless, the pressure we put upon ourselves to meet these expectations is what truly harms us in the end. The pressure cripples us, like a backpack filled with bricks, but instead of lightening the load, we try to cram more in. Why do we do it? Because everyone else does; because we think we need to; and because we want, more than anything, to get into one of the twenty colleges that Scarsdale considers acceptable.
The name of a college has become a status symbol, something to “ooh and ah” at and plaster on the backs of cars, and we have created an entire culture around ranking system based more upon the brand than the actual education one can receive there. As a result, students often place more importance on impressing their friends and living up to the absurd expectations of their parents and their community than on learning or their own happiness.

If we do end up getting accepted to one of the ostensibly top schools in the country, the question remains if we will actually be happier as a result. The minutes, hours, days, and even weeks after we open the mailbox to see our crisp white acceptance letters will obviously be happy ones as our friends, family, and teachers congratulate us on our success. But what about the months after? Will the name of the college matter once we’re actually there? Of course not: everyone else got in there too. And what about the years after? Because although a degree from a prestigious university might facilitate the job-hunting process and enable us to make more money than we would have otherwise, what are we really gaining if college is only a way to become our parents? If we continue along the path that we have been on since we were babies, we will remain petting zoo ponies, trapped within shoddily constructed wooden fences, and spend the rest of our lives tromping around in circles.






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I almost wish that I didn’t know the truth. I wish that I could look at junior year the same way many of my peers do. And I wish that getting into a so-called good college still meant everything to me. Because then I could bear to stay up until two in the morning studying, participate in clubs I don’t actually like, and do community service that I find meaningless. I could easily conform to the mold that I knead myself into and I could be the person my friends are and my parents want me to be. Because I would know that it would all be worth it.

But now, I am caught in the in between. I know that it’s not worth my happiness, my sanity, and my health. But I feel powerless to stop it. I am not strong enough to go against the values of an entire town or to diverge from the mentality of an entire school. The Scarsdale outlook on life is so ingrained in me that I feel that it is too late for me to change it. So yes, I am a hypocrite. Yes, I am also an example of this destructive mentality at its best. Because although I know better, I still think that junior year will eventually lead me to where I want to go. I still believe that if I make it all the way around this circle I’ll somehow end up happy - or happy enough. And I am too scared of the unknown, of what lies beyond this fence, to ever jump over it. Every day, every hour, every minute, I have been trained to think that I need to be do something that will get me into a good college - something that will allow me to have a materially successful life. And I don’t know how to stop.




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It would be easy to end here, and I almost did. Recognizing that there’s a problem is the easy part. It’s been done before and it will be done again because the fact that this problem exists is no big secret. The hard part is moving on. Standing up and brushing yourself off after being thrown backward off your pony from this horrible realization and deciding what now. Because this problem is never going to go away; not for your whole life, not if you’ve grown up in a place like Scarsdale. I suppose you could stop at knowing and let the knowledge marinate, like a piece of meat, until you’re ready to throw it in the oven. Maybe you need weeks, or months, or even years. Or maybe, you’re like me. And the knowledge without the solution is like a fly buzzing in your ear or a mother that lives vicariously through her kids because it just won’t go away. Not during a particularly hard math test, a bake-sale for one of the six clubs you belong to, or a concert for an instrument whose sound makes you cringe. No, not ever.

So, I decided to do something about it. I decided that junior year doesn’t have to be as terrible as the community makes it out to be. I learned that if I stopped participating in activities for the sole purpose of embellishing my transcript and started doing what I genuinely want to do that I would no longer feel trapped.

But now I only have a minute and a half to print this out and run wildly to English, so I actually do have to end this here. Good luck.



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