Missing an Actual Community

In the last 1st and 3rd assembly, we all watched a video recap of the school year. This video was virtually all clips of various goals, touchdowns and other sports-related celebrations. Following this video was another clip titled “Mean Tweets #1” where teachers read mean tweets about themselves and their reactions were filmed. It was hilarious. But I couldn’t help but think that if I were a potential student watching these videos, Harvard-Westlake would seem like a laid back, fun school, something that I have definitely not experienced through my six years here.

Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed that I was able to receive a world-class education in one of the country’s best high schools. I know that this education was the best investment in my future my parents have ever made. That doesn’t mean I enjoyed it. Those videos that were shown to us really just seemed like a projection of community and togetherness, when in reality the only time I really feel a community at this school is in those pockets of all-school assemblies and some large sporting events. Even then, I think Harvard-Westlake has failed to provide an inclusive community.

Very few of my friends had a very rewarding experience at this school, and just the thought of this place makes me sweat with stress. The mountains of work, the extremely competitive environment and general lack of community are the memories that will persist of my high school experience. I’m happy that the administration is trying to foster community with new traditions such as applauding the soon-to-graduate seniors at the end of the last 1st and 3rd assembly, but there is much work to be done. I can’t help but feel robbed of my “traditional” high school experience. But I guess that’s to be expected when you attend one of the best schools in the country.

But the blame can’t all be on Harvard-Westlake. I’ll admit it, I got caught up in how many APs I should take, the minimum GPA required for certain schools and the benefits of taking more SAT Subject tests. But how could I not when overhear some of my friends debating whether Harvard or Yale is a better school? I just wish I had some extra support when the stress became too much.

Yet other prestigious schools manage to juggle tough academics and student life, such as Brentwood School. Brentwood has a middle school to high school transition program in which groups of 10 ninth graders meet all year long with two senior students who lead discussions and even go out for lunch together. Brentwood also has “advisories,” much like our dean groups, except students talk about anything, not just colleges. And all of this happens during the school day. At Harvard-Westlake we had a program like this called CiviTalks last year. I personally liked the idea of this program, except everyone else completely hated it, thus making the entire program irrelevant. Maybe the overlying problem is that the student body refuses to take time out of their day to foster community.

Regardless of my peers, I don’t understand why Harvard-Westlake can’t have an integration program for new 10th graders entering the upper school. Sure, we have Peer Support but I always hear about how late it ends and the crazy secrets told during those sessions-even if all the attending students promise not to tell others about the tales told.

While I know that I am extremely well-prepared for college, and logically, going to Harvard-Westlake was the best thing my parents could do to prepare me for the future, I still wish that instead of getting peer pressured into taking that extra AP class I had decided to hang out more with friends or relaxed a bit more. Maybe it’ll take a few years and some more maturity to realize the advantage of attending a tough academically oriented high school. I just think that there should be more than monthly assemblies and funny videos to foster community.