On Leaving Early

K.Song/The Phillipian

As we near the end of the school year, it might be that the student in the back of your math class, kid that smiled at you in front of Paresky Commons, or maybe even your closest friend is no longer here. Perhaps they couldn’t bear the stress of Andover any longer, didn’t feel at home, or sensed a dark cloud over their head every time they stepped onto 180 Main Street.

Regardless of their reasoning, these students left Andover, a step that is hard to take and often viewed in a negative light. But why? Why do we, as a student body, often criticize and make assumptions about the character of those that have parted?

Leaving isn’t just a difficult decision to come to internally — making the call to leave your friends and a campus that you likely have some affection towards — but also externally, with all of the pressure on “making it through” and graduating. We are all driven students, or at least driven enough to make our way here in the first place. We will all almost undoubtedly graduate high school. So why does it have to be here at Andover?

We come here for a wide range of reasons: some of us grew up around the town, some searched up “top boarding school” in a rebellious seventh grade phase, and others followed in parents’ or siblings’ footsteps. Most of us probably thought we’d be happier here. We probably thought something about Andover — the intensive extracurriculars, the “prestigious” title, the people on campus — would fill some want of ours like no other high school would be able to. 

As much opportunity as Andover holds, no institution can ever really be the right fit for everyone. We shouldn’t pretend like everyone is happy here or that Andover has found some formulaic solution to balanced high school fulfillment. The pain many endure here isn’t directly or solely because of Andover, but it is real, and we need to recognize it.

See, when you’re not doing well at Andover, you’re told to get help. You’re told to make Andover work for you — go to conference, spend your free time studying to squeeze by with a 4, keep going, see a counselor at Sykes, remember that it’s almost break. Everyone here struggles. But while struggle is probably a part of any high-school experience, Andover has a unique culture in that the resources here feel limitless; in other words, when you can’t keep up pace, it feels like your own fault. While offering college-tier classes and workloads, Andover still tries to build a high-school support network. While intended as a safety net, it instead sometimes feels like an ever-advancing wall.

Although many graduate Andover feeling nostalgic, wishful, grateful, proud, and wiser, it’s worth asking this question: what if Andover just isn’t the right place for you? You might come out of Andover a “stronger” person, but what if you come out of Andover damaged in some way?

All this begs further questions. Why do we, as a student body, often criticize and make assumptions about the character of those who have left? Why do we whisper in hushed tones when we hear of their departure? Why do we occasionally congratulate ourselves for making it through “upper winter,” only to label those who left as those who “didn’t make it”?

There is life beyond Andover, which is something we often fail to realize. Maybe we should take a moment to step outside of the Andover bubble to realize that there are lives outside of 180 Main Street very much worth living. Maybe, instead of viewing Andover as something to “survive,” we should support and even honor the individuals who are self-aware and brave enough to make a decision to better themselves even in the face of stigma, steep collegiate expectations, parental pressures, and whatever additional stress affected their decisions.

None of this is to say that there isn’t still so much to love about Andover. The lovely people, rewarding classes, campus meme pages, inside jokes, and traditions of Big Blue can help us remember what we do truly love about this place. Not everyone who leaves does so willingly, or does so because of anything related to Andover. But because we live on campus, we as students often have trouble conceiving of a world outside of Andover, which leads to the dangerous alienation of those who do choose to leave.

So here in the newsroom, we’ve decided on a couple of things. Choosing to leave Andover means assessing your life outside of your academics and extracurriculars, realizing that this beautiful stupid crazy smart cold wonderful high school isn’t a good fit for you, and making the decision to drive off campus to prioritize yourself, whatever that may mean. And that’s okay. All of that has got to demand an incredible amount of strength, maturity, and energy. So let’s not make it harder– let’s commit to support our peers, wherever they find themselves.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLII.