Commentary

The Enemy Within

I distinctly remember my mood when I left campus after my first day as a Junior Day Student at Andover: I had never felt so overwhelmed. With an hour or more of homework still left in my backpack and the daunting prospect of doing it all again the next day, I could not help but wonder, “Is this how I’m going to spend the next four years of my life?”

One way or another, Andover students have an incredibly demanding lifestyle. This fall, articles published in _The Phillipian_ and in other student publications brought mental health issues at Andover to the attention of the community.

In light of subsequent campus-wide discussions, it has become evident that many students feel that Andover, with its academic rigor and high expectations, has placed too much pressure on students and that this has led to health issues. There is a sense that we are pushed a little too far and stretched a little too thin by Andover’s requirements. In reality though, it is we students who are responsible for the brunt of the stress that we face. 

This harm is done when we neglect our peers who do not meet our internalized standards of success. Our social responses to Andover’s academic challenge do more harm than any amount of work that could be assigned to us. We sometimes ignore friends who are struggling in class rather than extend a helping hand. We can be condescending towards people who do not participate in clubs. As a result, many of our peers feel left out and left behind. The competition between students to be the “smartest” and “most qualified” individual at the end of four years does much more harm to the community than good to the individual. We have created a hyper-pressurized environment where health becomes a secondary consideration.

Still, this environment does not exist with malicious intent. Students are not trying to create more stress for themselves through competition;  I think the fact that there are over 1,100 ambitious students at one school has some inevitable consequences. But these consequences should not be met with apathy.

We must look past the answers to questions like “What’s your GPA?” and “What clubs do you do?” that perpetuate a culture where one’s self-value is dictated by quantifiable entities.

As an institution, Andover has been committed to its efforts to address concerns about student health and wellness. The Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center and the new schedule to be implemented in the future are examples of  Andover’s dedication to student health. The school has taken the necessary steps to support us and will continue to do so. The proverbial ball is in our court.

We, as students, are the ones capable of dismantling such a destructive culture while still allowing for an academically rigorous and intellectually curious Andover experience. Exploring Andover and all it has to offer is an individual initiative that goes a long way in changing our collective mentality. Instead of prepping for a standardized test all day on Saturday, visit the Addison Gallery of American Art. Instead of studying five hours for a math test, take an hour to go to a music concert.

The more we can balance our time and activities on campus, the greater our chances are of finding happiness and fulfillment during our relatively short time here. We must acknowledge that only so many people can “succeed” at Andover if we measure our success via grades and positions. To create a healthier campus, we need to expand our definition of what it means to succeed at Andover.

_Peter Hahn is a three-year Upper from Georgetown, Mass., and a Sports Associate for _The Phillipian.