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A Reflection

Posted by JLin

As someone who was raised in the Bay Area, I've always taken great pride in being from Palo Alto - the greatest city in the world, as far as I’m concerned. Like many others, I read "The Silicon Valley Suicides" in this month’s Atlantic and it led me to reflect on my own experience at Palo Alto High School.


The pressure to succeed in high school is all too familiar to me. I distinctly remember being a freshman in high school, overwhelmed by the belief that my GPA over the next four years would make or break my life. My daily thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery.

I remember not being able to sleep well on Sunday nights, waking up covered in sweat from nightmares that I had just failed a test. I dreaded Sundays because it meant I just finished my weekend basketball tournament - my precious outlet from academics - and now faced a whole week of immense pressure at school. I felt the pressure coming from all around me - my parents, my peers and worst of all, myself. I felt that I had one shot at high school and that my GPA, SAT score and college applications were the only barometers of my success.

One day, I remember attending a panel discussion where a college student was asked, "What is your biggest regret from high school?" Expecting to hear about opportunities missed or paths not taken, I was surprised when the student replied, "My biggest regret is not enjoying high school more and thinking that my grades and test scores mattered so much. In fact, I don’t even remember what I scored on the SATs." I had filled out more Princeton Review practice test Scantrons than I could count and one day, I wouldn’t even remember my SAT score?!?

As each year of high school passed by, I realized that even though there was pressure to be great, I had to make a personal choice not to define myself by my success and accomplishments. I learned through my brother, my pastor and my friends that my identity and my worth were in more than my grades. Growing up my parents always said, "Do your best and trust God with the results." When I learned to truly understand what that meant, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Separating myself from my results is not an easy lesson and I’ve had to relearn this in every stage of my life. The world will always need you to accomplish more, do more, succeed more. After I got into Harvard there was the pressure to get good grades and stand out at Harvard. After Linsanity there was the pressure to have great performances every night, to become an All-Star, to win championships. I still dream big and give my all in everything I do, but I know that success and failure are both fleeting.

When I was a freshman at Palo Alto High, a classmate who sat next to me committed suicide. I remember having difficulty registering what had happened. A year later, a friend committed suicide. I saw up close the pain and devastation of their loved ones and in my community. I realized then that there are so many burdens we don’t see the people around us carrying. I told myself that I would try to be more sensitive and open to other people's struggles.

We may not have the answers to how to completely solve these issues, but we can take more time to really listen to each other, to reach out and have compassion on one another. I don’t have any great insight and I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be a high school student today. I do know that I’m proud to be from Palo Alto, a resilient community that I see striving to learn how to better support and care for each other. I hope that my personal experience can remind someone else that they are worth so much more than their accomplishments.