Racing to stay ahead
At a school where standing out is students' priority, when does competition stop being positive?
December 16, 2020
Freshman year. As she walks through the Jefferson dome for the first time, Rhea Vidyababu’s eyes are wide open at the prospects of intellectual collaboration that surely lie ahead. It’s not until her IBET group begins comparing their scores on the recent biology test that her focus shifts from expanding knowledge to beating her friend’s 96%.
Sophomore year. Vidyabubu spends this year exploring her interests in a variety of clubs, including yearbook and Urban Dance Movement. But once she hears word that the girl in her math class founded a nonprofit and the boy who sits next to her in chemistry created a club, she begins to question herself: shouldn’t I do something like that—wouldn’t it look good? Doing these things must make me an accomplished person; it would feel nice, right?
Junior year. With college apps on the horizon, Vidyababu endeavors to secure a summer internship position. Even as she slogs through hours of physics homework, she still tries to convince herself that the horror stories the upperclassmen told her last year are just a fantasy. Now, she’s a swim team manager and interning outside of school: but it’s not like I’m the president of Science Olympiad. Am I standing out enough?
Senior year. College apps: the supposed culmination of all her late nights studying, contests for leadership positions, and efforts to stand out. Did the four years of competition motivate me to get to this point, or was it more draining than it was worth?
Vidyababu’s experience reflects that of too many students at Jefferson. An environment of high-achieving students naturally gives rise to a competitive environment—there exists a constant pressure to not only do well but also to outshine others