By Michael Kaplan
If you go to www.urbandictionary.com and search âHarvard-Westlakeâ you will come across some astounding and inflammatory definitions. These definitions, which can be posted by anyone, paint Harvard-Westlake as a place where wealthy parents send their sheltered kids to school. My personal favorite: âIt is home to lots of stuck-up people who drive expensive cars to communicate to others how important they are.â
Even though these posts are hyperbolic and resentful, most of us here donât need the internet to tell us about Harvard-Westlake stereotypes. To many we are seen as the snooty rich kids. And though I wholeheartedly believe that this stereotype is a gross exaggeration, there are events like the âFashion for Actionâ fashion show on April 11 that make me second guess myself.
If you missed it, the show was a spectacle to behold. Taper Gym was transformed into a Paris runway complete with strobe lights and pyrotechnics.
I know the Fashion for Action chairs put a lot of hard work into the event and their industriousness should be lauded. I am not criticizing their work. We are a product of a greater culture, a culture where shiny and expensive equate success. I know the budget for the show was virtually limitless as much of the set and swag was donated by generous parents with the best intentions.
It is not just Fashion for Action, but a greater school mentality. We tend to hold events with professionally designed sets, costumes and luxurious free stuff. The effects may be impressive and pleasing to the eye, but when nearly everything is provided for, students arenât learning the valuable life experience of working within a budget and the event loses that authentic, student-run feel.
Our extravagance often serves as a distraction and masks the reasons why an event was held in the first place: to showcase the hard work of our students.
I do not want to take anything away from the student models who mustered up enough courage to walk model-like down the runaway in front of 600 people, most with no prior modeling experience. Posing in front of that many people took an unusual amount of self-confidence for high school students and these students should definitely be commended.
Yet this accomplishment was forced underneath the surface by makeup drenching the female modelsâ faces. Though I donât usually mind skimpy clothing, the outfits of the middle school girls were taken too far â many of their dresses were skin tight and their heels were the height of a small tree. In addition, one of the models threw dollar bills out into the crowd as he posed at the end of the runway. Not exactly crushing any stereotypes.
The planners would have had no problems drawing a crowd by using the selling point that the event would be a chance to see your friends model. Instead they got a guest speaker, reality show celebrity Lauren Conrad, who monotonously read from notecards, did not add any personal insight, and never made another appearance. Is she really a person of character we want our students emulating? Or just a pretty face that gives the event credibility?
The idea of a fashion show is creative and fun. Money went to a good cause and there were good bargains for shoppers with proceeds going to charity.
Thatâs enough. We donât need fireworks or professional runways or paparazzi stars or Dolce and Gabbana to make people see that we have great, hardworking kids; yet, at Harvard-Westlake it sometimes seems that these superfluities come standard. We perpetuate our own stereotype and it ends up hurting the good, honest hard work of our students.
Yes, many of our students come from societyâs upper class. Yes, their parents have connections. But when we encourage an atmosphere where this wealth and networking is used solely to show off, well, that is so Harvard-Westlake. And we can do better.