I watched the Cum Laude induction ceremony a week and a half ago. I had a lot of friends being honored and I wanted to be there for them. However, I still ended up watching from the tech booth, removed from the audience in a small soundproof box at the back of Rugby auditorium.
I could very easily have sat in the audience, no one would have judged me for it, and my friends would have been able to see me, but I didn’t because I felt out of place in that crowd. I felt like I didn’t belong, that I was somehow not a part of this group of people that included peers and parents who I had known for years.
I decided to go to Harvard-Westlake because I knew I wasn’t being challenged by my old school. I wanted a place where the academic community was thriving and had the resources so that I could do what I loved, which at that time, was learning.
But I hit upon almost instantly that the major shortcoming of Harvard-Westlake was that there was an emphasis placed on achievement and not on learning.
And so at the cum laude ceremony, I found myself separated from people I cared about because they were being honored for what they had achieved and I was not. As history teacher Kenneth Neisser put it when starting off the ceremony; these were the students who had gotten more “A’s” than anybody else.
All those students who were inducted are brilliant. They are wickedly smart. They will do great things with their knowledge and make a way for themselves in college and in society.
These were the kinds of students that I had wanted to intermingle with when I originally came to Harvard-Westlake, the kind that would change the world, that would talk about what they were learning rather than what they were achieving.
I leave Harvard-Westlake with this wish somewhat unfulfilled. Those students absolutely have the capacity to be a part of that great intellectual utopia I imagined Harvard-Westlake to be, but the reality of Harvard-Westlake is that it wasn’t the stepping-stone I thought I had chosen.
I learned a great deal about myself and what I want out of an education at Harvard-Westlake. I was privileged to have some of the best, most passionate teachers, speaking on subjects that are in all-purpose mind-blowing. But the eagerness for the consumption of knowledge that I felt when I began at this school in ninth grade, I know has been whittled down to something lesser.
I chose my college carefully. And ultimately my decision was made by one two-hour admitted student reception. I met students there who weren’t talking about how tough school was or how much homework they had to go do after this reception. They were talking about what they had learned. And for a brief two-hours, I was incredibly happy.
President Rick Commons closed the ceremony by urging the inductees to focus on the pursuit of learning rather than the measure of it. His was the only speech made at that event that made me smile and listen. It gave me some hope that Harvard-Westlake wouldn’t always be the way I experienced it.