I knew what I was getting into when I said #yestoandover. On my revisit day, in the Chapel where I spend so much of my time now, Mr. Ventre told all new admits that we were the “Chosen Ones”. Cliched or not, it felt good to be called that. It meant that Andover wanted us, that the school already loved us, and that we belonged to it. So in the end, my decision was based on love. I know— another cliche—but I felt love here and a sense that despite Andover’s reputation as an academically rigorous school, a student’s well being and growth was its top priority. I was ready to make here a place where I would excel, grow, and be happy.
I walk through the Great Lawn, watching the new admits, and reminisce about my revisit day two years ago. And I see the same hope and anticipation on their faces I felt that day. As I walk, I’m determined to be honest to myself about my experiences here and my frustration with the sometimes toxic competitiveness that pervades our community. I’m not going to lie, there have been moments that I’ve despaired and wondered if my decision to come here was wrong. Moments, where I have wanted love but received the opposite and vice versa. Instances where I felt excluded had hurt me acutely, but then I was sometimes guilty of this exclusion too. Sometimes, I would notice someone in pain but choose not to reach out or inversely, be in pain myself and no one seems to notice. Some of us are able to express ourselves to one another, and we’re the lucky ones. We share our stress and worries about grades, friends, sports, music and so on. Yet, sometimes we really don’t, because there’s an underlying pressure to remain stoic and quiet about our pain, because showing our vulnerability means weakness and a loss of opportunity. For example, I feel like admitting to not have extra time to sleep or extra time to complete and understand math both indicate that as a candidate, I worry I may not seem fit for the leadership role. In another instance, admitting that a social dynamic isn’t working and isn’t inclusive might mean being lonely or left out. Most of us have experienced this one time or another. We reel from the toxicity stemming from the competitiveness in our work and life at Andover and yet we remain resilient and stoic in the face of it, with no way to let it out, no way to engage with one another so we are able to deal with it collectively than alone. A study done by Dr. David Topor of Harvard Medical School reports that people who consistently choose to accept and share their emotional experiences have a higher likelihood to show greater psychological health over the next six months. Dr. Topor urges many to not be scared of sharing their emotions and discourages the need to suppress feelings that many perceive as being vulnerable.
Listening to our friends needs to be something beyond the scope of proctors, prefects, advisors, and so on. We need to dispel this poisonous need to constantly prove ourselves. School can help us shift out of this crevice of distrust. Just like focusing on gratitude this year, a good plan for next year would be to ask our community to evaluate what the phrase “Big Blue Nice” means to them, with love and trust being at the center of this. If we become a community of listeners and sharers who possess true empathy and try to understand a person’s position and giving them the strength to speak up, then we become trustworthy and this should encourage more openness among the student body.
So, how do we start? It’s like the leap of faith, where you let yourself fall back and trust your peers will catch you. We start there, by taking the first step and opening up about our true feelings; telling our friends we get stressed and feel overwhelmed sometimes. We need a shift in thinking that just because someone shares their pain or anxiety, that they always need a solution, or that they suffer for some inherent problem. Listening is not about fixing, labeling or judgment. We need to go beyond kindness and listen better, empathize by relating to others, by owning their suffering. With practice, I hope this becomes innate to our nature and a part of our cultural identity.