Editorial: As seniors graduate, student journalists take a stand against gratuitous and unhealthy college hype

Paly Campanile editors stop publication of controversial college destination map

When the leadership of a storied student publication like the Palo Alto High School Campanile changes every year, breaking with long-standing tradition can be a test of courage and fortitude for the editors.

Some traditions can seem almost untouchable, and the annual end-of-the-school-year map showing where seniors are going to college in the fall was, for many, in that category. So three cheers to the five outgoing editors-in-chief of the Campanile for having the courage to stop publishing this map. We hope their decision carries forward with future editors and creates a new tradition of humility among graduating seniors and their parents.

The map has long been a controversial and divisive part of Paly's culture and has been repeatedly called out as contributing to and fueling competition. And yet by all accounts it's also one of the most popular and anticipated features of the year.

The Gunn High School student newspaper, The Oracle, stopped publishing a similar map in 2015 in its "senior magazine" when editors reached the same conclusion as the Paly editors. Since then, the Oracle has continued to publish a map that only shows the total number of seniors going to each school.

It's never been clear how a majority of seniors or their parents feel about these maps, but as concerns about student stress and academic competition have steadily ratcheted up, the practice has increasingly been criticized as unhealthy and disrespectful of students who make other choices.

It is not coincidental that the Paly editors' decision comes on the heels of a college-admissions bribery scandal that included the indictment of two Paly parents and several others with children in nearby schools. This brought the dark side of the intense competition for college acceptances and brought the influence of wealth into clear focus.

The Campanile editors published their views about campus culture eloquently in the paper's April edition before then announcing their decision on ditching the map two weeks ago.

"The carrot of college corrupts," the editors wrote.

"Paly fosters a goal-oriented student mindset, and we often allowed this mindset to dictate our own self-worth and our view of our peers. As seniors, we have emerged from the dark cloud of the college admissions process and have witnessed firsthand the way that it erodes one's senses of value and place.

"Frankly, no one can be blamed for valuing the glitz and glamour of a prestigious institution or high GPA. But there's more to being human than achievement — we think the drive for traditional measures of validation can force students to miss some of the most valuable lessons an experiences high school can offer.

"Whatever you wish to call it — toxic, competitive, cut-throat — the dynamic set by skewed values can result in students missing out on a crucial part of the high school experience: building relationships, discovering passions and developing soft skills."

Killing off the college map, which was an action the Campanile editors took on their own but which can be reversed by future editors, won't suddenly change the high school culture. We hope student government leaders and administrators also persuade students to drop other traditions that draw attention to college acceptances, such as T-shirt day, when seniors wear T-shirts or sweatshirts from their chosen college, and the decoration of graduation caps with college names. (Gunn administrators did away with the graduation cap celebration several years ago.)

To parents who love these traditions, we suggest engaging your student in a conversation on what they think and on how isolating these traditions can be for students who choose a different and less celebrated path, whether it be community college, a gap year, the military or some other alternative.

Just three years ago, then-editors of the Campanile defended the map as just a factual list that "does not foster competition but rather encourages seniors bound for higher education or alternative paths to take pride in their postgraduate plans."

Congratulations to current Campanile editors Leyton Ho, Waverly Long, Kaylie Nguyen, Ethan Nissim and Ujwal Srivastava for getting it right and having the courage to act on their beliefs. As Long told Weekly reporter Elena Kadvany: "We realized that it's really the students who need to take a stand against the culture. The more we talked about it, we realized there's really no reason why we shouldn't be those students."


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16 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on May 31, 2019 at 8:17 am

And so continues the sad slow decline into snowflake culture. Can't blame the kids, when they are urged on by the likes of this editorial. In fact bravery would be to stand up to thus silliness and just continue the tradition. But the pendulum of political correctness has further to swing before its oppressive character becomes obvious. Kids, sorry that we raised you so badly, you'll rightly blame us when you're older.

19 people like this
Posted by Blame The Parents
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2019 at 8:22 am

It's the parent's fault for creating this 'bragging rights' format along with creating superficial pressures for their children to appear 'successful'.

No different than actively pursuing designer labels & status symbol brand names on material goods.

Call it post 1980s yuppiedom gone berserko.

While we are growingly concerned about the recycling of plastics, people themselves are getting more plastic.

21 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2019 at 10:20 am

Real life is real life. Maybe they can start getting rid of grades too, and tests, and make sure everyone gets a trophy, just like in kinder ayso. Or make sure no one gets a higher grade than anyone else, or takes more AP classes than anyone else, or has a bigger house than anyone else, and make sure that no one stands out in any way from anyone else.

2 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2019 at 11:47 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

@ Independent....everyone already gets a trophy, there are 5 editors in chief of the Campanile, several valedictorians in the graduating class and on and on.

8 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2019 at 11:47 am

Yes, let's make sure that all sporting contests, math and science competitions, robotics tournaments, debate and whatever else make sure their outcomes come out even, so no one will feel bad! This has gone on for far too long!

2 people like this
Posted by Dishonest
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2019 at 11:52 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

9 people like this
Posted by Campo Fan
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2019 at 12:04 pm

Previous commenters, you are all missing the point here!
Whether you agree or disagree with the decision that this young, dynamic group of rising journalists made, the POINT is that they identified something within our local culture that they feel needs changing and they found the courage to take a stand together...not easy to do as the incoming group. In a world where SO much needs to be changed, the courage of this group fills me with actual optimism. Thank you, young editors....and keep going!

8 people like this
Posted by More dishonesty
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2019 at 1:45 pm

[Post removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2019 at 2:09 pm

Posted by Parent, a resident of Green Acres

>> And so continues the sad slow decline into snowflake culture. [...] Kids, sorry that we raised you so badly, you'll rightly blame us when you're older.

You missed the point. The kids aren't complaining about actual -academic- achievement. They are complaining about college admissions being used as a Rolex. About, for example, a kid's USC admission** motivated by the parent's desire for bragging rights, regardless of whether or not USC is the right school for that kid's education. Rationalizing this with the idea that the world is competitive is a misdirection. Let's make college about education again.

** USC has more than its share of attention in the current admissions scandal, but, clearly, any prestigious university can be used this way. And many have been.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Green Acres
on May 31, 2019 at 2:19 pm

@Anon, I think you missed my point. I didn't say the kids are against academic achievement - I'm sure they are not. They are against things that make other kids "feel bad" - just like when Gunn banned kids putting colleges on their grad caps a few years back (which Paly still allows I think). This is the same trend that stifles open discussion of anything that might hurt someone's feeling. It's pernicious and I feel bad for these kids.

If a kid wants to be proud about college, good for them. If they brag, then they are a jerk (as with anything else). It only hurts the people who let themselves be hurt. They should get over it - there's a lot of challenge and pain in life.

5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Posted by Parent, a resident of Green Acres

>> This is the same trend that stifles open discussion of anything that might hurt someone's feeling. It's pernicious and I feel bad for these kids.

We are agreed. You can't legislate against a kid being a jerk. But, you can decline to encourage it, which is what these various efforts are about.

However, the effects can be deeper than that. Parents spending tens to hundreds of thousands to have their kids admissions tests doctored, etc, etc, hurt a lot of other people. Money, slots, degrees wasted on a status game rather than actual education.

6 people like this
Posted by I Gots to Know
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2019 at 2:53 pm

I Gots to Know is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by alt
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2019 at 2:58 pm

I appreciate the students’ motives, but I think it’s the wrong approach. What about the students who rise above circumstances and never thought they could do well? It does matter to celebrate their hard work and what they accomplished. Once again, we left the bad actors spoil it for everyone else.

In our own education community, all the students are doing something different, so there is less direct comparison. Learning comes first. We share a list of all the colleges where people are going, and if people want help with information about a given school, we help each other. I never feel anything except proud - and interested in knowing which schools made the grade for the students rather than the other way around.

I really think the culture behind the problem needs to be addressed. I am still hearing from kids at Gunn that the negative competitive ness is as bad as ever.

3 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2019 at 4:03 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

Why only five “Editors in Chief”? Isn’t that unfair to the other 75 editors?

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on May 31, 2019 at 4:07 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

And why, dear Weekly, only “three cheers” for the 5 editors in Chief? Shouldn’t it be “fifteen cheers” or 3 each (or, to my first point 240 cheers all in?)?

3 people like this
Posted by Wishful thinking
a resident of Barron Park
on May 31, 2019 at 5:14 pm

I sure hope there won't be any awards given out to anyone, like for academics or sports or anything else...that could make people feel bad too.

2 people like this
Posted by I gots to know
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2019 at 11:39 pm

I gots to know is a registered user.

I wonder if part of the reason they didn't publish a map is because one of their friends is one of the students who cheated on their exams.

10 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 1, 2019 at 1:59 am

Y'all are going off the deep end with your snowflake ranting. This means either: You graduated from an elite college or your children have not graduated from Paly or Gunn yet. Three of mine have graduated from Paly and this longstanding tradition of Post Paly Plans that has been tradition since at least the 1970s is toxic, especially in today's college admissions environment.

I wonder how many of you with degrees from Ivy Leagues or Top 25 colleges could actually be accepted into your alma maters today. Web Link Back in the day, all that was required to attend UC Berkeley was either high grades/lower SAT scores or high SAT score/lower grades. UC Santa Barbara was a "party school" (nowadays, 4.0-4.26 GPA is necessary for admission). Yup, that has ALL CHANGED. BOTH GPA and test scores must be high. Feast your eyes on these UC freshman profiles: Web Link Yes, Berkeley has a 15% admit rate, 4.16-4.3 GPA necessary with top SAT/ACT scores. In addition, AP classes now compared to 1980? No comparison! They are much more difficult now than they were then (we would barely lift a finger in a regular lane class and earn a "B"; only the truants earned "C"s. And with the Asians shredding academics, the colleges require higher data from them than from other ethnicities. And no, Asians do not qualify for affirmative action because they are overrepresented at colleges. In addition, due to technology, most teachers are more disorganized and less dedicated as they were back in the day: changing deadlines, last minute deadlines, incorrect review sheets, late grading of homework, and my favorite, PEER grading on English papers (as if students know more than an English teacher). The teachers back in the day stayed after school to help students and cared to help students. Now, many teachers are not even present at Tutorial (the dedicated time for students to see teachers) and do not reply to emails. We'd write a paper every week and they would be returned with red pen marks the next week, this is how we learned to write! Cannot completely blame the teachers (and there are some dedicated ones who teach well) but technology has made all of us busier, it's affected everyone.

To those of you who are disappointed with axing the college map: What comes to mind when these schools are mentioned? CalState Fullerton, ASU, Chico State, Fresno State, Foothill Community College. Oh, I can hear you sneering and scoffing. ASU is actually a great college but in Palo Alto, students are embarrassed to admit they are going there because it's thought of an easy entrance school (due to its size, they can accept many and the GPA requirement is low). Chico has improved too. I rest my case.

14 people like this
Posted by Retired Cisco SW Engineer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2019 at 8:28 am

I'm glad to see CSU Chico mentioned by Paly Alum.

I went to Chico State, studied Computer Science and was lucky to retire from Cisco in the '90's. Chico State CS graduates are highly sought after by tech companies. I recall that we got a Stanford PhD to work with us at Cisco, and he couldn't succeed in a production environment. I also know Stanford graduates who are working in fairly average jobs given the Stanford name brand. In other words, going to a big name school is not necessarily a formula for success.

So I salute the Paly editors for this move. All kids should go to a school that is a good fit for THEM, or not go to college at all, given the expense and the burden of student loans. Recent headlines say a college education is not a guarantee of a good job.

10 people like this
Posted by Humility and Kindness
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2019 at 10:46 am

I graduated from Paly in the late 70s and then we didn't decorate our mortar boards. Since I have kids at Paly, I can attest to the fact that the extreme focus now on elite schools is worse than it was in my day, when the same zero-sum game applied as well. The changing demographics here are producing and ever more intense atmosphere. Back then if you did exceptionally well and got into elite schools as I did you didn't want to brag, you wanted to be humble and not lord it over other people. Go ahead and criticize me by saying these kids today are just celebrating success, but we all know they are parading their "victory" when it would behoove them to start modeling the humility and kindness you need in life.

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