Maintaining our connections

Ryan Albert

Since the school-wide game of Assassin finished my sophomore year, I could not wait to play again. Being a student seems unimaginable without the relief of Assassin at the end of the year. As the days ticked down, I realized sadly that the game was not going to happen this year. How could such a loved school tradition disappear without students even batting an eye?

During the Assassin season, I am actually excited to come to school. The game bridges some of the biggest high school divides, connecting grades, friend groups and classes in the unified pursuit of victory. I have become so accustomed to a school where everyone shares a common attachment to the game that I felt the school was losing its personality when I heard sophomores asking when the game would be held.

Although the game has suffered criticism for trivializing gun violence and being a distraction, it has survived because of the mass following and student leadership opportunity for moderators. But in spite of the strong student leadership, the lack of an organized system and school support caused the well-known game to disappear.

Nobody should be blamed for letting Assassin fall through the cracks, but it is such a crucial community activity that not attempting to revive or replace it would be harmful to the student body.
All of the events that bring us together as a community should be recognized as critical to our mental health and academic success.

Before coming to Harvard-Westlake, I always imagined significant student support at athletic events and a giant pep rally before the Homecoming games, but in reality, I only see empty bleachers at games and an unenthusiastic fanatic fest in a crowded gym.

I have learned, however, that school spirit does not need to be based around athletics and at Harvard-Westlake. There are many successful student-run and school-sponsored activities that bring us together. The administration provides coffee and space for students to perform during Coffeehouses, brings In-N-Out trucks to football games and allows dozens of students to stay on campus late every Monday night for Peer Support. These are all unique aspects of our community, but by themselves, they can not provide us with sufficient school spirit.

The Coffeehouses conflict with most athletic practices, so I can infrequently share that connection. Friday night football games rarely interrupt schoolwork, but after a week of rigorous studying, I almost always opt out to get a good night’s sleep. Even the remarkable environment at Peer Support does not connect all of its members enough to be the sole activity that bonds the school. However, I do see it as an important part of connecting students from all grades.

Regardless of which extracurricular connects me to my classmates and school, there is always a strict demand to focus on academic success that begins to overpower that relationship.

I expect a strict emphasis on rigor and a commitment to success from my Harvard-Westlake curriculum, so it should not be the school’s fault that we feel pressure. However, the administration and student body should be putting more effort into retaining a positive community. Students should not despise coming to school.

The Mission Statement expects students to be “united by the joyful pursuit of educational excellence,” which is not an unreasonable expectation. It is unreasonable, however, to expect academics to be the only uniting factor on campus.

At Harvard-Westlake, we have unique forms of school spirit. In place of the cliché pep rally where students break out in song and dance, we have a variety of clubs, groups and teams. Each of these things may not be big on its own but together they bind us together.

They make up the fabric of our school, and in order to protect our well-being as students, we should not let their integrity be compromised.

Attempts to reform the system are not futile. After the administration banned the semiformal event, students voiced outrage and established a new tradition to replace it: Homecoming formal. The same process is happening now, as student outrage encouraged the reduction of the inefficient all-school assemblies to once a month.

It is the responsibility of all members of the school to recognize when our traditions are being compromised and make the necessary changes required to preserve our community values. A single game of Assassin may not seem significant to some, but it represents the student body’s dedication to a positive school environment.