Students Discuss the Advantages and Drawbacks to an Andover Education at CAFE Forum

Students discussed the sacrifices of an Andover education at the CAFÉ forum, titled “The Hidden Cost of Andover,” last Friday. Conversations centered on the role of an Andover education in shaping students’ lives. CAFÉ board members served as facilitators for the forum and shared anecdotes that highlighted some of the benefits and disadvantages of an Andover education. Chelsea Grain ’12 said at the meeting, “I was very highly motivated before I came here, and I was used to success. But here, it’s easy to fail, and it’s a gut-wrenching feeling.” “I don’t have time to breathe or sleep, but I think that’s because the reason we are here is to put pressure on ourselves to do well,” she continued. Her comment brought near unanimous agreement from the group. Carolyn Whittingham ’11 said, “I don’t want to get too close to my friends at home because I don’t see them, but I don’t want to get too close to people here, because I won’t see them after a few years.” Shannon Adams ’12 said, “It is so hard to hear about all the important things in my friends’ lives that I missed out on. And when I am home and want to see my roommate, I can’t, because she lives in Hong Kong. I can’t even talk to her because of the time difference.” Many students also said that they struggled with keeping perspective on the big issues in comparison to the small issues they faced at school. Whittingham said, “I’ll complain to my father about bombing a test, and he’ll talk about how the water isn’t running.” The majority of students also agreed that the general problems teenagers deal with are not the same as the struggles of Andover students. Grain said, “We don’t get to experience normal things like driving a car or having a guy in our room with the door closed.” Facilitators asked questions that sparked discussion such as why students chose to come to Andover. Most students said that they came for the name, while many others mentioned that they hoped attending Andover would benefit their college opportunities. Jackie Wallace ’10, CAFÉ board member, said at the meeting, “I have heard a student mention that they wear the Andover name like a handbag.” There was a large divide in the amount of pressure from parents to attend Andover. While a majority of students believed that their parents encouraged, if not forced, their children to attend here, some said that the perception of boarding schools as a place for elite, conceited, party-driven students detracted parents from allowing their children to enroll. Most students in the forum said that the difficulty of academics at Andover had exceeded their expectations. Other students discussed how the workload at Andover hindered their love of learning. A common student concern discussed at the forum was the subconscious tendency to constantly compare one’s accomplishments to a peer’s. Wallace said, “I’ve heard the term ‘intellectualist,’ used to define a person who judges someone based on his or her perceived intelligence.” CAFÉ meetings generally attract approximately sixty students, but less than ten students that were not members of the club attended on Friday. This discussion had to be cut short since Saturday classes moved the sign-in time to 8, but many seniors stayed and continued discussion afterward. CAFÉ board member Hector Kilgoe ’10 said, “The topic of the forum was not as controversial as some of the others we have hosted, like race and drugs, but we had a strong variety of classes represented. Everyone was interested in knowing how other students dealt with basic changes when transitioning to Andover.” Wallace said, “It seemed like the conversation flowed pretty smoothly. It was interesting to see when people had an ‘a-ha’ moment when they realized a point someone else said related to them.” “The point of CAFÉ is not to come to a final conclusion. It is to have people from different backgrounds express and share their opinions in a comfortable forum,” she continued. Dayo Adewole ‘10 said, “Sitting in those discussion circles really gives you a chance to not only share your thoughts with others, but examine your own thought processes and form a more educated opinion based on the talks with peers. Or not. Either way it is fun, you get to meet people, and it’s fairly low-key so there’s a casual, soothing atmosphere to ease into.” Wallace said, “There was a very small turnout, which was partially the board’s fault. We had great advertising, but it was too last minute.” Kilgoe believes that several competing events on Friday night may have contributed to the low turnout. CAFÉ hosts meetings one to two times a term. Its goal is to promote cross-cultural discussions on issues that are important to the Andover community.