Beyond Excellence

Last Wednesday at All-School Meeting (ASM), Chris Hughes ’02 publicized his struggles and lessons learned as an Andover student. Hughes emphasized Andover as a school of great “intensity” and “excellence.” Unfortunately, 12 years later to this day, a mentality that equates success with tangible results like leadership positions and other forms of quantitative success still exists. At Andover, this culture that thrives on results rather than the journey prevails. The definition of success on campus is far too narrow to encompass such an extensive student body with a diversity of interests and talents. In academia especially, the obsession with efficiency often overrides any attempt at pursuing excellence or fulfillment, two of the goals Hughes actively encouraged. We need to change this, as Andover should strive for excellence in the form of fulfillment in order to achieve success. To do this, we need to collectively broaden the way we interpret success. The competitive nature that stems from the selectivity of a school is inherent and inevitable. Despite this, the students here have immense flexibility in defining the school’s milieu. Colleges, board positions, course levels and grades all seem to define our success at Andover. Instead, we should learn to see success in terms of our capacities, progress and fulfillment, rather than our results. Hughes even said his most disappointing grade at Andover was in English, despite it being his favorite subject. If we had considered him a failure in English and did not give him the acknowledgement he deserved for his efforts, we would have overlooked the next Editor In Chief of “The New Republic” and Co-Founder of Facebook. This narrow view of success that permeates many conversations I hear and participate in on campus overlook potential and opportunity. Despite Hughes’s honest advice and account of his experiences here, I challenge his description of Andover as a school committed to “excellence.” Unfortunately, I have noticed that students here are more devoted to efficiency rather than excellence. At Andover, there is an immense pressure to produce the best results in the shortest amount of time. The focus is on short-term memorization rather than absorption. Our definition of excellence does not go hand-in-hand with fulfillment. As long as excellence is defined by a “6” or a 500-level course, most students will not take, for example, a possibly more fulfilling 300-level elective or a “4” in a more difficult class. I would like to believe that excellence is synonymous with fulfillment, but as a current student here I unfortunately do not see this as the case. I value fulfillment over an easy “6,” but I have been taught by older students here to take less fulfilling classes in order to achieve an Andover ideal of “excellence,” which in most cases is an honors grade. This idea — that excellence is important and that fulfillment is some childish and unfeasible idea — has been ingrained in my mind. Thus, contrary to Hughes’ admiration for the school’s commitment to “excellence,” I believe it has more often than not damaged my desire for fulfillment rather than motivate me. I hope that we can reach a point where we see each other’s success in our characters and stories — and in the ideas we learn — without feeling vulnerable to the pressure of producing an efficient result, most often being an honors grade. At a school engineered to be academically fulfilling rather than conducive to easy grades, students should seek fulfillment in every challenge, rather than seeking circumstantial success. We define a peer’s success based on grades, rumors and reputation. This school should be a place to thrive and be fulfilled without placing such an emphasis on results. During our limited time here, we deserve to absorb all the knowledge and fulfillment we can without having to be scorned for how the courses we love will not look good “on paper,” or are a waste of time for an “excellent” grade.