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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A place at the top

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I hail from Edina, Minnesota: land of the cake eaters and home of the world’s first indoor shopping mall. I grew up in a Minnesotan paradise full of large houses, country clubs, fake tanned people, and Juicy Couture sweat suits. Now, it would be easy to critique my suburb and those in it for their money, but my parents told me at an early age how incredibly privileged my suburb is. The reason my family moved there was for the school system, and it took me a while to fully realize how warped my idea of school was before coming to Carleton.

Edina takes pride in its place at the top. When you first walk into Edina High School, you see a front desk surrounded by framed magazine covers. These covers are from magazines that rank private and public high schools on everything from academics to art programs to sports. Most students know exactly where Edina is ranked, and at school assemblies, this triumph, and how to keep it, was the main topic of conversation. Sure, they threw in some assemblies about caring for your fellow student, but they knew that a little “healthy” competition was what got them those rankings in the first place.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.” In many classrooms, this quote by basketball player Tim Duncan was read out loud before exams. It was tapped up proudly right next to the motivational posters of tacky turquoise oceans and misty mountaintops, with words underneath that said “DESTINY” and “”CHALLENGE” and “AMBITION.” Sure, they tapped up some posters that said “TEAMWORK” and “IMAGINATION” and “DREAMS,” but when it came to test time and college applications, it didn’t matter how kind you were or how beautifully you dreamed. At least they were being realistic.

I used to think life was about perfection. In high school, getting a B on a test meant I hadn’t done my best, which sadly was another way of saying I hadn’t done better than everyone else. Getting 8 hours of sleep meant I could’ve studied more, and when my friends started getting accepted to colleges early decisions, I had to bite down feelings of jealousy. When I got rejected from my dream school early decision, everyone knew. I stayed home from school to avoid the gossip, but on Monday it was still the first thing people asked me. I was on the periphery of a group of hyper-competitive kids whose parents paid for not only SAT tutors but also for college essay writing and interview tutors. During my junior and senior year, conversations before class consisted of people trying to figure out your GPA, SAT score, and where you were applying, to see how they compared. Students, including me, took classes not for the sake of learning, but to better our chances of climbing to the highest level of the ivory tower. If you weren’t going to a top college, then all you had learned was seen as a waste of time.

When I got accepted to Carleton, I remember flipping through the accepted students packet. I was so excited I didn’t really stop to look careful at the pages, but when I saw the picture of Friday Flowers, I remember carefully turning back the page and laying it flat against my countertop. I stared at it for a moment, realizing that I could go to a school where academics and competitiveness don’t go hand in hand. Even with this realization, it’s taken me a while to unlearn the lessons from high school. I’m not unrealistic: in a way my high school’s competitive environment pushed me and got me accepted at Carleton. Edina gave me opportunities to take advanced classes and be part of phenomenal extracurricular activities. I know my complaints are complaints of privilege, but often too much stress makes you lose yourself. Before coming to Carleton, I didn’t know who Anna Schmiel was. I thought I wanted to go to law school or work for the U.S. State Department. I thought school was about lifting you to a higher rung on the ladder of life, and if you didn’t climb fast enough, someone would push you off and take your place. What I’ve realized is that the ladder I should be focused on climbing is that of knowledge, both academic and interpersonal. The more I learn, the higher I climb, and the higher I climb, the larger my view and understanding of the world gets. In our success driven world keeping this in perspective is hard, but if you only look up and reach for a higher rung, you will never take a second to be proud of your accomplishments and decide how you want to define success.

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