Just Another High School

What would history be without its great conversations? The jokes of Anais Nin and Henry Miller helped inspire Gore Vidal. Two future Secretaries of Defense made early acquaintance in the locker-rooms of Princeton after wrestling practice. Where would we be today if Marx never met Engels? Or if Alexander Hamilton and George Washington had not crossed paths? Or if you, the next great Andover graduate — illuminator of the quantum world or author of the definitive American novel or even president of the United States — had never chosen to come, had never met whom you’ve met, had never heard or exchanged the words that would define these four years for you? I came to PA for the conversation. I had never met anyone from prep school and I had never seen the campus, but I believed the admissions office when they said that there was something more than academics here. What I came for, what many of you came for, and certainly what makes this school great, is that intangible but irreplaceable intellectual culture that our Head of School recently mentioned at All-School Meeting. It is not the classroom conversations, but the dorm conversations, the dinner conversations, the conversations on the paths, in the basement of Morse and in the debate room, that really matter. It is those conversations that shape our views, and it is our views that will ultimately shape our shared reality. But what kinds of conversations are we really having? For those of you who came for the philosophical debates and political feuds, are you disappointed? Are we actually an intellectual community? I would answer no. Andover has not been disappointing for me, but it has been different from what I expected. Resources: incredible. Academics: great. Classmates: I’m ’09, so of course they rock. But in my opinion, we’re more like a normal high school than not. We’ll talk to teachers about the upcoming test, but we never sit down with them at dinner unless Student Council makes us. We stay up all night to do our homework and get good grades, but not to discuss the elections. Let’s face it; most of us have spent more time browsing Facebook than reading newspapers, and more time discussing the opposite sex than discussing sexism. Save for perhaps a tiny minority of students who, without applause or congratulations, actually embody the Andover spirit, we are not an intellectual culture. We are not even a teenage intellectual culture. For the most part, we’re just teenagers. We all need to have fun, and we all need to relax, but when we’re not relaxing, what are we doing? Many of us are already running in the rat race. Do not mistake intelligence for intellectualism, because there is no connection between taking 600-level classes and being a lover of culture and thought. Whether or not we admit it, much of what we do is motivated not by a sincere passion, but by a drive for success and prestige. A perfect 6.0 is not a mark of personal achievement, but a mark of public achievement, something to impress the community and college admissions boards. And some of us aren’t participating at all. We’re letting Andover pass us by like it’s some kind of resort. We should demand a higher quality of conversation. We should demand moments of inspiration both in and out of the classroom. We should demand, of ourselves, so much more than we give. American popular culture may not be intellectual, and so this school is our best chance to experience that side of life. How can we let this opportunity slip away? On the brink of possibly the most important election in living memory, Uppers sit in History 300 classrooms, bored. During a financial crisis of epic proportions, students sit mute in economics class. As CERN makes breakthroughs that could change the way we perceive the world forever, kids don’t feel like doing their physics homework. We are not here to become better college applicants; we are here to become better citizens of the world. Do not let yourself get away with being average. Andover is not about being normal; it’s about being abnormal. It’s about the overly interested, way-too-enthusiastic kid who won’t shut up in class. Andover is about the Independent Projects and independent thinkers. Andover is not about popularity or dating or dominating the social scene. Andover is about getting ready to change the international scene. So raise your hand. Read a book. Talk to a teacher during conference. Change the subject. Change yourself. Talk about something substantial, something complicated, something difficult and unpleasant. Be nerdy, be different, be the kind of person who deserves to go here. It’s not enough for our Head of School to announce that intellectualism is this year’s theme, just as The Phillipian pointed out that it’s not enough to have a Non Sibi day. Intellectualism, like Non-Sibi, is a mindset, a cultural shift the students themselves have to want. Create this change. Because we talk to exercise the mind, not the tongue. Because factual knowledge is a poor substitute for the ability to think, academic skill can never replace intellectual passion, and knowing the answers is nothing, absolutely nothing, in comparison to asking the questions. Tiffany Li is a three-year Senior from Highland Park, Ill.