Seniors Speak: Advance the Student’s Condition

Kevin Zhang, the 2012-2013 Student Council President, has a simple message for all you IMSA students: wake up!

Advance the Student’s Condition

By Kevin Zhang, Dartmouth College, Class of 2017

Our mission at the IMSA is memorized by nearly the entire student body. Buzzwords like “advancing the human condition” and “ignite creative, ethical, scientific minds” are commonplace. With such lofty targets, what about the students who are supposed to achieve them?

Before going any further, I want to clarify that IMSA provides many unique opportunities that are found nowhere else in public high schools in Illinois. From SIR, to residential life, and even selecting electives, IMSA stands apart. Need proof? Try explaining what an I-day is to non-IMSA people.

It was these same opportunities that drew me to IMSA. Yet, after three years, reality has struck hard. It is easy to blame others for our problems. Too much homework? Teachers are being unreasonable! Too stressed? People here are too competitive! Too bored? This campus is dull! We must not forget personal responsibility when dealing with personal issues, but to write off these complaints as simple irresponsibility would be just as misguided. There are problems here, however there are just as many solutions to be tried and tested. After all, we are a “learning laboratory”.

But nobody is doing any testing.

I’ve heard people call IMSA a “dead” community. I disagree. Rather, the IMSA community has become something far more dangerous. The community has stagnated, atrophied, stopped. We are alive, but that’s about it.

The student body is exhausted. In addition to a college-like academic course load, IMSA students push themselves to become Presidents, Coordinators, and Directors of every sort. And we have yet to mention athletics, co-curriculars, or residential student leadership. The student body is not apathetic; rather, it is exhausted. Too exhausted to truly care and take pride in their work, we students are reduced to machines, grinding out the next essay or presentation. And so, ironically, the student body has pushed itself into a wall: constantly striving for more, while missing the true purpose of what we do. To care about the overall community is a luxury most students can ill-afford.

So let us look at these goals again. Is this student body more empowered and passionate once we leave IMSA? Or are we simply going through the motions and hoping for the best?

I offer no easy solutions. The problems lie in attitudes and mindsets, both of which are almost impossible to change externally. Instead, they must be self-initiated. No organization, committee, or authority can “force” students to stop this vicious cycle. We are the victims of our own ambition, the creators of our own guillotine, the diggers of our own graves.

Within the bubble, we distort reality. Ironically, the students of an institution that believes “all humans have equal, intrinsic worth” tie their self-worth to grades, extracurricular titles, and college decisions. Seniors deemed “pro” or “role-models” are idolized, put on a pedestal, and glorified as model students, all the while ignoring their struggles, insecurities, and scars. Finally, the sophomores – pressured by parents, peers, and themselves – set impossibly high goals, striving to become a “pro” senior.

Thus the cycle continues. Each class stricken with an inferiority complex, students push themselves past livable limits. Some drudge on mindlessly, others become horribly discouraged, most lie somewhere in between. Either way, passion is smothered, curiosity ignored, and initiative stifled.

Deep structural changes need to be made. Frankly, there is too much going on at IMSA. We have focused so much on quantity that quality is often ignored. In terms of both academics and extracurriculars, there is only so much that can be asked of a student body of 625.

But I remain hopeful. We mold the world around us, and we remain the masters of our own fates. We have the power to break this bleak cycle of mass apathy. We hold, in our hands, the choices that can truly grow this community again. Learn to appreciate the work you produce. Take a second to reflect on why you do what you do, and who you want to become. You are more than your résumé.

Do not simply survive IMSA. Live it.

Respectfully submitted to the Acronym.


Kevin Zhang

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