On February 23, a private event was scheduled in the midst of a seemingly ordinary school day at Cupertino High School. Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of the recently published novel How to Raise an Adult and the former Dean of Freshman at Stanford University, visited CHS with a plain notepad in hand and a strong voice to carry her message. The assembly began with the oh-so-repetitive chant that we learned as freshmen (“TINO, how do you feel?” Well to be perfectly honestly…I’m a bit tired from all my AP courses and am a little annoyed that lunch hasn’t arrived yet, but I guess “WE FEEL GOOD! OH WE FEEL SO GOOD!”).
Ms. Lythcott-Haims strode towards the center of the gym and thanked us all for being there before touching upon her chosen topic: “The Checklisted Childhood”. Instead of talking at us, she emphasized the need to mutually respect one another – not merely to welcome her as an outsider, but to unite as one body that understood the “freshmen” mindset per say and more importantly, to empathize with one another.
After several minutes, a comfortable atmosphere emerged, and Ms. Lythcott-Haims took advantage of this. She boldly uttered the word “passion” and immediately followed it with, you guessed it, “college” – a combination that is physically imprinted on the minds of high school students.
Then, the metaphorical bonsai tree arrived:
“It’s a miniature version of a tree that somebody cultivates…You clip it and prune it… Making it grow this way and that way in a little cylindrical pot…And you can say to people ‘Here’s my bonsai tree. Look what I’ve done.’ We’re treating you guys like bonsai trees – clipping and pruning you so that you are attractive enough for a college some day…But you are not bonsai trees. You are wildflowers.”
Some of us rolled our eyes at that last line, wondering why this same speech had been made to us on previous occasions. However, whether we like to admit it or not, Ms. Lythcott-Haims addressed our common fears – of being left behind in the dust of “inferior” institutions or disappointing the individuals that never failed to find hope in our academic pursuits. The pressure of shears snipping off branches is excruciating, but who would be brave enough to say that it hurts while others can bear it? Apparently, Ms. Lythcott-Haims.
Now, my purpose is not merely to commend Ms. Lythcott-Haims because there were a few points in her speech where I disagreed with what she said, but in general, she came across as someone that was personally familiar with the lives of students in a highly competitive environment.
“When your parents are greeting you at the end of the day and all they are asking about is your homework and your grades…I’ll tell you what. It takes a pretty strong human not to feel that your value as a human comes from your grades and scores and awards. I’m here to tell you that you matter because you exist.”
Academics have always been a foundation for my identity, and I am sure that others feel the same way. Sometimes, the stubborn arch of numbers bend against our will and we are left with a product that does not reflect who we are, but instead, the face of someone else - something that may haunt the furthest reaches of our memories. But let me assure you of one thing. With one gentle touch, all nightmares can be awoken from, and I hope that at least for a few of our readers, Ms. Lythcott-Haims was that person for them.
Watch Julie Lythcott-Haims’ TED Talk at Gunn High School:
Julie Lythcott-Haims will be presenting for parents today from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM (PST) at Cupertino High School (10100 Finch Avenue Cupertino, CA 95014).
Click here for more information.
Thumbnail Image Courtesy of Flickr.