Last year, the student body struggled mightily with being mature and respectful during assemblies. The problem didn’t stop there. During dance performances, plays and class meetings the glare of phone screens and whispers pervaded the mass of students supposedly listening intently to the events taking place on stage.
This year, I’ve noticed that we have the opposite problem. At every single event I’ve been to this year, be it a concert or an assembly with a speaker, the crowd has risen to its feet, at times begrudgingly, before the stage has cleared. Often, these standing ovations have started with one person and reached the critical mass necessary to shame the people still sitting into hoisting themselves up onto their feet.
I’m reminded of a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” bit in which Larry, crippled by a back injury sustained the night before, faces glares from a crowd when he refuses to stand at an event honoring a friend. Too often this year I have felt like Larry, forced into standing like a Jew at Catholic mass. My opposition to standing, however, comes not from an aversion to physical exertion or religious objection but from genuine concern and respect for the “standing o.”
Now, to be fair, many of this year’s performances have deserved standing ovations. I’m a huge fan of Harvard-Westlake performing arts and generally thoroughly enjoy the speakers we have the honor of listening to at all-school assemblies. However, the honor is being given out, as Bart Simpson would say, like Chiclets.
I’m all for encouraging those who have the bravery to speak or sing or dance or act in front of an audience that is innately judging them from the opening curtain. However, the problem I see with this pattern is the inherent devaluation of the standing ovation over the course of time. As a collective audience, the standing ovation is the highest praise we can give. It is our Presidential Medal of Freedom, and we’re treating it like a medal on a Boy Scout sash. I know I sound like a Grinch, but our peers or speakers that we host haven’t, in my opinion, invariably earned a unanimous standing ovation.
In ancient Rome, military commanders not only had to win their battles but do so in a truly exceptional way to rouse the populace into standing upon their triumphant return to the senate. Perhaps it would be excessive to impose these same standards on high school students, but it seems imperative to reconsider how heartily we reward peoples’ onstage efforts.
Give a little more consideration to the times you stand up and clap.
Like Syndrome said in “The Incredibles,” if everyone’s super no one is. Similarly, if every performance is, ostensibly, exceptional enough to earn a standing ovation, then nothing will seem truly exceptional.