Letter to the Editor: on “Useless Competition at SLS”

To the Editor of The Sentinel,

I would like to address my concern over your May 27, 2015 article “Useless Competition at SLS.” I will respond to your proposal to discontinue the Upper School Awards Ceremony, a time-honored St. Luke’s tradition and a place for the school to honor and recognize its best and most hardworking students. Also, competition and stress at St. Luke’s are natural and necessary introductions to the highly competitive college admissions process as well as the job market alumni will face when they graduate. Also, unlike St. Luke’s, the workforce may not prove to be a welcoming and nurturing institution. In short, by sheltering our students, we are doing them a disservice by failing to adequately prepare them for the conditions of the world beyond the Hilltop. If we are to call ourselves a “college preparatory school,” it is imperative that we actually prepare our students and simulate the conditions our alumni face every day.

In your editorial, you argued that the Awards Ceremony is “a cruel and painfully long exhibition that says little more than ‘you’re not good enough.’” The purpose of the Awards Ceremony is twofold. First, it serves as a way to give the students who committed themselves to achieving SLS’s Community Goals for Learning the recognition they rightly deserve after a year of  seeking extra instruction after school, late nights spent studying, and lunches spent in the library preparing for an exam. Secondly, leaving the Awards Ceremony empty-handed should not be taken as an insult, instead it should serve as motivation to try harder next year. Ultimately, competition is beneficial to the school community because only it can inspire ever-increasing achievement. Without recognition to strive for, how can SLS students continue to excel at the level at which they currently perform?

You also compared the Ceremony to “a public comparison of who is a ‘winner’ and who is a ‘loser.’” Once again, leaving the PAC without an 8 x 11 piece of cardstock signed by Mr. Davis is not a loss, it just means that you didn’t win an award. It is possible to be an excellent, committed student and pass by four ceremonies without any awards to show for them.  Another lesson students who don’t win can learn is humility. In life, there will always be situations where one may think he or she is deserving of recognition, but in turn receives none. Learning to accept this with humility is an important part of maturity. Though they themselves received no recognition, students should feel happy for their peers, not jealous nor insulted. As soon as the ceremony ends, the student should resolve in his or her heart to win next year. If the Awards Ceremony is a competition that can be lost, then the loser should heed legendary football coach Bear Bryant’s advice: “losing doesn’t make me want to quit, it makes me want to fight that much harder.”

Sincerely,

Ryan Murphy

Posted by on January 26, 2016. Filed under Op-Ed. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

One Response to Letter to the Editor: on “Useless Competition at SLS”

  1. langalisa

    January 26, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Ryan,

    I will agree with you on most counts. The academic award ceremony certainly is a good opportunity for us all to learn some humility. Accepting that life will not always go your way is part of maturing. While St. Luke’s is a warm community, the work force might not as welcoming, and preparation for the real world is necessary. Not that I have ever considered the ceremony preparation for the real world, it is logical to consider it so. There are a few counts where I will not agree with you.

    An aside: in terms of sitting through the event, by the time a student receives an award, most students in a class already have a general idea of who has received the highest grades on tests etc and thus many can deduce who will receive the reward; this sometimes isn’t the case but I will get to that later. To take the time to run students across a stage when there is another inevitable result seems excessive to put it nicely. For those who sat through 4 years of the ceremony, having never received an award, and thus having literally no reason to be there other than adding to the volume of applause, the ceremony becomes more of a chore. Although there could be an argument that the student is guilty by not completing their chores or being a part of the SLS community, being reprimanded with a 60 minute detention (maybe manual labor) is probably more appealing.

    “Ultimately, competition is beneficial to the school community because only it can inspire ever-increasing achievement. Without recognition to strive for, how can SLS students continue to excel at the level at which they currently perform?”
    During my senior year I worked with David Fox on a STEM project for the better part of 9 months. Forgive me, but we did not invest the time for something as shallow as “recognition”. We worked because we were genuinely interested in solving a fairly complex problem. We wanted to learn. I would be aghast if any of the scholars worked for “recognition” or out of competition. If competition is the only thing inspiring achievement (learning), that’s not the St. Luke’s I graduated from.

    “Though they themselves received no recognition, students should feel happy for their peers, not jealous nor insulted.”
    What became more and more apparent over the years was a kind of disconnect between who students felt were deserving of awards, and who the faculty felt were deserving of awards. It would seem foolish to bestow the powers of deciding who had earned which award to the students, but I would be lying to you if I said there were not times in my class’s years when students were baffled by results. Granted most people forget about the ceremony within in a week and the only time the awards really come up again is on your final transcript, but sewing seeds of resentment or even humiliation seems foolish. We have all sat through some relatively lame school meetings and assemblies. Dr. Bramlett reminding us to stay in dress code might rowel us up, but no other announcements or events leave people feeling bitter like the academic awards ceremony.

    “As soon as the ceremony ends, the student should resolve in his or her heart to win next year.”
    Learning material for the sake of winning is not conducive to learning. The college I attend has plenty of students who literally will not sleep (Some for days at a time) until they feel they have outdone their classmates in preparation. Aside from the inhumane nature, learning out of desire to win is not what St. Luke’s taught me. The motto we all walk under is not “Enter to Learn, but only for an award”. There was a time when the motto on the SLS wiki page read “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve burgers”, but I really believe the original, “Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve” suits us best.

    Respectfully,
    Andrew Langalis Class of 2015

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