Your Self-Worth Cannot Be Printed on a Degree

For our Scripps Ranch High School column this year, four seniors share the writing duties. This allows the community to get “A Look Inside” SRHS and life as a teen in Scripps Ranch from different and unique perspectives. This month Taylor Williams takes a look at the anxiety many SRHS seniors face this time of year. Taylor is the SRHS yearbook copy editor and helps students write and edit essays in a school club. She loves reading and writing and has a goal to become a journalist. She comes from a military family and, while her roots are in California, has moved across the country. 

When college seems like the end-all-be-all of your life, it is easy to get wrapped up in the idea that your future success weighs entirely on a decision you make at 17 or 18 years old. What to do with the next four-plus years is a choice that factors heavily into every senior’s life. Whether they’re doing everything they can to get accepted into Harvard or planning to attend community college, every student has had to reflect on the impact that decision will have on his or her future, and what means are needed to achieve the ends. 

Planning for the future is sensible and necessary, but this planning can transform into a source of toxic anxiety for many students, especially when planted into the middle of a very competitive atmosphere like Scripps Ranch High School. At Scripps it can seem like you have to stay two years ahead, otherwise you’re behind. 

Making the transition from middle school to freshman year is a huge leap—a leap into caring about grades and academic reputations more than you ever have before. This first year is meant for preparation. What classes to take and what grades to make to qualify for the right courses next year. You probably have a couple of dream colleges in mind by now. 

Sophomore year you tackle driving, sure, but the real challenge is taking your first AP class and balancing it with an obscene amount of extracurriculars so your college application in two years looks perfect. This year is when colleges start to look at your GPA, pushing you to try your best to do your best. Still dreaming about those dream schools. 

Junior year is the most academically intense and challenging year. You feel like your worth is defined by a string of test scores. You study, then go to school, and then you do extracurriculars, and then study some more. Sleep is a distant friend. You begin to narrow down what schools you plan to apply to next year. 

Senior year. Keep your grades up as you gather accomplishments from the last 17 to 18 years onto an application. Spend the next few months in limbo while waiting for colleges to get back to you. Begin to come to terms with the fact that your dream school may be just that…a dream. 

Now this process may come across as a bit depressing, especially to those who never went through the college scrutiny that is today’s norm. But in reality, there is more growth and knowledge gained through experiences of trial and error, of dreams and rejections, than through a process in which every outcome results in your favor. Every person—every student—has failure. Where this senior class anxiety comes from, then, isn’t purely because of failure but rather the idea of you being the only one experiencing it. And what makes this anxiety amongst Scripps students especially singular is that many students’ idea of failure is, in fact, not failure at all. More often than not, what a student feels is his or her “failure” is really just unmet high expectations.

What I think more students need to take to heart is the fact that their worth isn’t something that can be graded. It is not something to be accepted or denied by a college. It is not validated by a degree. These things focus on school smarts, but there is more to a human than what they can learn from textbooks and lectures. 

Now don’t get me wrong, good grades, getting accepted to good schools, and attaining a degree are all valuable accomplishments that should be celebrated and that can significantly influence one’s character. However, these things are not defining factors of how successful, how meaningful, how substantial one’s life will turn out to be. School is a chapter in every person’s story, one that unfolds differently for each individual. It is an important chapter, but it is just one portion of the plot. School comprises only 15% of the average person’s life. That 15% matters, but it is not what matters most. 

When you’re in high school, it is your whole world. You haven’t had enough experiences to gain perspective on anything outside the fishbowl that is public school. As senior year comes to a close and your friends begin to plan their higher-education paths, it is imperative to remember to not measure your accomplishments or failures against your peers. UC schools, state schools, community college: institutions dedicated to knowledge and education. Taking a year off or bypassing college to get a job or pursue an opportunity that doesn’t require a degree: paths that impart knowledge and education, no matter how unorthodox. 

An education is an education. Worry about your education, not how it compares to someone else’s—and not how it will “define” your life. It won’t.

Taylor Williams, SRHS Senior