While I congratulated the students, I also told them that the recognition they received was not just their own. For whatever reason, these students possess remarkable academic gifts. Yes, they have studied hard, but so have many other students.
Because they have received extraordinary gifts, I urged them to find ways to share their talents and abilities with the world.
When our students realize that their talents are not solely their own doing, my hope is that they will also develop a sense of gratitude that will serve them well and, yes, keep them humble as they pass from our tutelage into full adulthood.
But it is more than being humble. Students also need to be both grateful and responsible. It is the nature of young people to think that the world revolves around them. Today, few of them need to have jobs or do chores or be responsible to the rest of their family. As adults, we are constantly looking for ways to make their lives easier, reduce their stress and free up their time so they can study or participate in an impressive array of activities.
They are, in many ways, more independent and less responsible to others when they are students than they will be at any other time in their lives.
I believe that this raises student stress.
If our students do not feel a connection and a responsibility to those around them, a sense that others depend upon them and a sense of gratitude, they are much more likely to feel alone and lose perspective. The chances are greater, I believe, that they will lose the real meaning of their studies and become overstressed by the challenges that are a part of being an adolescent.
Ironically, a sense of gratitude is made all the more difficult by the nature of our extraordinary community. Far less than 1 percent of all seniors in the country are recognized as National Merit Semi-finalists while more than 9 percent of PAUSD seniors were so recognized this year. In this particular category, few districts, if any, can match Palo Alto.
While this article focuses on National Merit students, these same ideas about talent, gratitude, and responsibility apply to all of our students. By any criteria, our students are significantly above their national peers in terms of academic and non-academic gifts.
Ask educators in Palo Alto and they will tell you that this generation of students is the most gifted group of young people they have ever seen.
Because we live in a community with so many gifted children, it is easy for them (and us) to lose track of how appreciative we should be when our relative position in the world is so strikingly different from our absolute place in it.
Just as we parents do, our students compare themselves to their immediate peers. Many of us grew up as big fish in small ponds. While our children's pond may be as small, it is filled with lots of other big fish, like them.
This makes for difficult swimming and a different set of challenges for them, and for us. It is the nature of Palo Alto as the center of the world's innovation to draw the most talented, brilliant and gifted in the world. Reminding our students of the real nature of the world and exposing them to ways they can make it better because of their gifts is important for their sake, and the world's.
These are complicated topics, but ones that students, educators and parents must ponder. Making sense of all this isn't easy and writing about it is far easier than putting it into practice personally.
Yet our young, precious gifts count on us for wisdom and direction. I look forward to participating in our ongoing community conversation about how best to help all of our promising young people.