'Live now. Share deeply,' Gunn grad counsels | June 8, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 8, 2012

'Live now. Share deeply,' Gunn grad counsels

After battling deep depression, student shares her ordeal with classmates

by Chris Kenrick

Shortly after learning of her early admission to Stanford University, a Gunn High School senior last December spiraled into a "deep depression," crying without reason and feeling empty, lost and alone.

Wearing her graduation cap and gown Sunday, June 3, the student, Julia Maggioncalda, recounted her ordeal, and the lessons she's drawn from it, for classmates and their families at Gunn's baccalaureate ceremony in Spangenberg Auditorium.

The ceremony featured poetry, humor and musical performances by a range of senior class members, including Eddie Zhou, Jack Kwan, Alena Rott, Allison Hannah, Fiona Flynn and Jeff Neff.

Maggioncalda struck a somber note, describing her weeks of depression and "total exhaustion."

The four-sport athlete, straight-A student and homecoming queen told classmates she felt "overcome by total exhaustion and a sense of sadness that I couldn't control.

"I couldn't do my homework and I stumbled through basketball practices in a daze. I slept 14 hours a night and woke up exhausted and in tears."

She missed three weeks of school.

"I would cry and I wouldn't know why. I couldn't stop. I felt empty. I felt lost. I felt alone."

Maggioncalda said she got help from her family, her teachers, her doctor and a few friends.

When she finally returned to school, she "heard that people thought I wasn't at school because I was celebrating getting into Stanford early," she said.

"Let me tell you, the lives of others are not always what they seem."

Looking back, Maggioncalda concluded that her four-year obsession with getting accepted by a top college had caused her to miss out on the richness of high school.

"I've often felt alone during high school," she said. "How is it possible to feel so alone when constantly surrounded by classmates and teammates?

"It's because I felt insecure and I was obsessed with my future. I didn't feel close to my friends or appreciate each moment I was living.

"I was afraid — afraid that not getting into a top school would render my past a failure and my future doomed."

Maggioncalda drew laughs and cheers from the audience when she recalled some of the high points of her class's four years at Gunn — a hard-fought championship basketball game and this year's seniors winning the school's traditional "airbands" competition.

"Please don't get me wrong; there were definitely some great times in high school," she said.

Maggioncalda said she'll make a point of appreciating such moments "more deeply" in the future, rather than rushing on to the next thing.

She plans to take a gap year, "put my future on hold so I can enjoy the present. So I can wake up each morning looking no further than just the day ahead.

"And once I go to college I'm going to learn for enjoyment, not for the A. I'm going to make deeper connections with the people around me and spend less time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and whatever else gets invented in the next 12 months," she said.

Maggioncalda said she recently shared some "senior wisdom" with a group of freshmen in one of her classes.

"I told them to quit obsessing about the future and enjoy every day they have at Gunn and love the people around them," she said. "I told them I made the mistake of rushing through my four years here, thinking only about my future, and I regret that.

"We've learned a lot during our four years at Gunn ... and most of it is important and we should take it with us.

"But some of what we've learned is unhealthy and should be left behind. We should not sacrifice relationships with people for a letter on a piece of paper.

"So, people, take the good things from Gunn to your new schools next year and make the most of it. All of us will be happy at any college we go to as long as we connect with the people around us and feel like we belong.

"Live now. Share deeply," Maggioncalda said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Posted by Moira , a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I thank this student for her honesty and wisdom after a difficult period in her life. I went to the Gunn graduation last night and noticed a few things which makes me a bit cynical about what the Gunn culture actually promotes.

Students wore different sashes based upon their GPAs. The two students chosen for student awards were so over-the-top perfect in activities, GPAs etc it would be hard to be an average kid and compare yourself to them. The principal said "All you need is love", but students displayed their future colleges on their caps-didn't see any Foothill or SJ State, lots of blank ones from those that declined to participate or thought their school didn't measure up. The ones you did visibly see were Harvard, Cal and Stanford (in sequins). So all you really need is a high GPA and a top 20 school.

Also, a class the size of 490 students is simply too big for a feeling of connection for many students.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Interesting that the top 20 schools are where a disproportionate number of the founders of Facebook (Harvard), Twitter (NYU), Instagram (Stanford) & Pinterest (Yale) - the social media platforms the valedictorian decries - hail from.

To all the kids out there who may feel some pang of regret or jealousy that you're not Top-20-bound, I'm here to tell you with 1,000,000% confidence that your future's about *who* you are, not *where you study*. If you care to find it, there's ample evidence that what college you go to really doesn't matter.

BTW, I need an intern to help with sales & marketing at the startup I'm at...

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:23 am

I graduted from Gunn several years ago, and I completely agree with Julia Maggioncalda. I honestly wish that someone shared this with me when I was in high school. Instead, I, along with a number of others, wasted our youth worrying about getting the best grades, getting into the best colleges, and doing extracarricular activities for the sake of our resumes.

I'm not saying that college is not important, but if I had a better balance I would have still attended college, but I would have been happier! I never took the time to focus on friendships or other relationships, or to learn for the sake of learning. I am still struggling with these issues. I still don't know what my passions are, because I was too busy in high school and college doing what I thought I "should" be doing.

Now that I am an adult and have had time to reflect, I have learned so much about what REALLY matters. Friendships really matter. Being a good person really matters. Many of the leaders that I work with did not attend the best colleges. They have fantastic leadership skills, or great people skills. They have great relationships and networks that open up opportunities for them. Some of the best ways to find a job these days is through networking. As another person commented, in the long term, it does not matter which college you attend. It will make NO difference. I know a lot of people that went to state schools and have become incredibly successful. I also know many Stanford graduates who are unhappy or unemployed. Go figure.

When you go through the ups and downs of life, you won't look back on your grades or college. In fact, later in life, nobody will care or ever ask about this. What you will need is a great group of friends, interests, and things that make you happy. It is always better to reflect on your young adulthood with a smile and remember the fun times you had, rather than the weekends you spent studying. It is important to study and to go to college. A good career is important. But sacrificing a fun, fulfilling life, is not worth it. Its ok to be "average" when it comes to school. Make up for it in other ways. Life is too short.

Posted by ..., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:30 am

Palo Altans need to learn not only how to work hard, but how to play hard as well.

Posted by Local gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:39 am

Thank goodness she asked for help. Many young people in her position do not, and we see the results in the obituaries.

Posted by Wynn Hausser, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 10:28 am

Julia's comments should be required reading for every student, parent, teacher and administrator in our school district. I hope it causes people to take a hard look in the mirror and at the kids around them as her words ring in their ears. I don't know Julia but I am proud of her for expressing this truth. Thank goodness she had a support structure around her to help her through this difficult time. My heart goes out to those who aren't as fortunate. No matter what she achieves from here on out, Julia is successful in my book for learning what many adults never do. Now I'm off to hug my kids and smell a flower or two!

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2012 at 11:13 am


She was not the valedictorian. Gunn doesn't have those.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

Hey - don't be afraid to fail - you learn more from failure than any class you will ever take. When you get older you will see that it happens more and more in life anyway and though it's not fun, it's nothing to fear either, and it can make you brave. Many of your peers are not immune to failure - get advise from them.....they'll help you through it.
Take fewer AP classes, let go of some of those sports that zap up all your time and energy, and tell your parents, teachers, and friends to back off!!!!! You may have to set reminders for yourself and those around you, but it's ultimately up to you....only you.

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Whoever gives the closing farewell statement is the veledictorian by definition, whether Gunn recognizes it or not.

My main question is how these new Gunn graduates will raise their own children, and what will be the expectations thrust upon the next generation. The cycle repeats.

Posted by ChrisC, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Brava to Ms. Maggioncalda. Her thoughts and admonishments are inspiring and I hope this message takes hold among Palo Alto students. I was interested to know about the "class" distinctions worn by graduates, especially their future colleges, but Gunn doesn't have a Valedictorian? Why is that? Valedictorians and Salutatorians are a traditional recognition of achievement in high-school and hasn't seemed to hurt centuries of them. But flaunting the college you're going to? maybe not just because of grades but maybe also because their parents can afford Stanford? When I graduated in 1965, I certainly knew that one of my classmates was going to Harvard, another to Vassar, and some to Harvard -- they deserved it -- but our wonderful Valedictorian and Salutatorian deserved their honors.

Posted by Clarify, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm

The speech was very good and worthwhile. But it was at the baccalaureate, not the graduation, and it was one of a few speeches given. So it wasn't a valedictory address, just to clarify.

The issue raised is not so much a Gunn issue, in my mind, as a community issue - what do we find important and what are our kids driven to achieve. My kid, who attended Gunn, went through high school like it was a job, not a learning experience - certain things needed to get done in order to get that highly desired "promotion" to an elite college. I don't think we are alone in this regard, many other schools have the same problem. Personally I don't think there is much the school can do to change it - it requires a change in our values as families.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm

High school is a tough time for a lot of kids. The front cover of today's Weekly picturing the smart, beautiful and talented Gunn graduate Miss Heather Nolan captures a real positive and uplifting image of a happy young lady, and her cap was not decorated with CAL, Stanford, or Harvard......just saying

Posted by Clarify, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

@ChrisC - Gunn doesn't release class rank, so no #1 and #2. This is increasingly common in top high schools. They did have two student speakers at graduation who are chosen by audition, based I believe on content and presentation. There are also two students recognized at graduation for the "Faculty Cup" (one boy, one girl), for all around excellence in performance and values - both were quite outstanding.

On decorating caps with colleges - pretty much everyone knows where the other kids are going. The Oracle publishes a senior issue with a list of most of the kids and their destination). There is also "wear your college swag to school day" where the kids where the tee shirt, etc., of their chosen college. That said, while have the caps decorated is a nice festive touch, more diversity wouldn't be bad. There were some kids who didn't do their college logo. Good idea to promote for next year.

Posted by paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 8, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Julia is a wise woman - even at her young age. I wish her much happiness and thank her for sharing her very valuable insights.

BTW - Paly does not have a valedictorian either.

Grad caps - students all over the country decorate their graduation caps, it is not unique to Gunn or Paly (and some of them are really cute and creative). Graduation is about celebrating, its the appropriate place to announce academic accomplishments and future goals.

Unfortunately, @Clarify is correct, high school is a job used to get good grades and take the right classes to get into the right college. Very little is about actually learning things you will use in the future.

Posted by dave, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 8, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Great story in yahoo about a Harvard bound girl who was abandoned by her drug addict parents who did janitorial work at her high school before class.

Posted by gunnparent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 8, 2012 at 2:50 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Thank you all for the clarifications on valedictorian, baccalaureate ceremony vs graduation, and current customary practices. My commencement memories of Cubberley 40 years ago have grown mercifully vague. We did have our share of awards assemblies. Our party at the recently torn down bowling alley bordered on dreadful. Then we scattered to a blissful care-free summer vacation which the kids these days probably don't enjoy. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by One more mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Maybe, just maybe, these ceremonies should also showcase students who are going on to Stanford, or other prestige universities...

That would say a whole lot more than having a speech someone who yet followed all the unwritten rules and who is going to Stanford. Not to make light of her plight. But I am afraid this says it's OK to relax but ONLY if you make it to Stanford.

Posted by One more mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2012 at 6:01 pm

* ... who are NOT going to Stanford, or other prestige universities

Posted by Well Said, a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I totally agree with Anonymous - a resident from another community -
It was so well said. It does not matter. You can go to any school or none at all and be successful. People skills are so important! Great job! I totally agree!

Posted by susie, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Enjoy High School,
Go to undergrad overseas. Stanford undergrad teaching is all by TA's anyway and college costs a fortune.
Then save you pennies and come back for a grad degree to enhance your resume. Stanford only need appear once on a resume. Not worth ruining your life or bankrupting yourself to get it to appear twice

Posted by Bill , a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 9, 2012 at 6:40 am

Brava to Julia! Can I ask each parent in Palo Alto to look hard in the mirror? Having just put my 3rd kid through Palo Alto high schools, we have an issue that starts with parents and is transmitted through peer pressure to each kid in high school: You must succeed at all costs! It starts with removal of unstructured play of our own youth, replaced with Music Lessons, Soccer Camp, Little League, driving to boy scouts, and it progresses through parents driving to play dates with selected friends, placement in the 'right' summer programs, educational boosts at places like SCORE and tutoring assistance at the many local tutoring places, we advance to almost mandatory SAT prep, college essay coaches, private college counsellors, meanwhile our kid is encouraged to take as many AP courses as possible and when it's all done, we bask in the glory of the great college s/he was selected into. Oh had a breakdown 6 weeks into college and took a year off for mental health? Must be a weak kid!

We all need to do a little soul searching on what our priorities are, are they vicarious living through our kids? Are they about the status we as parents never had by attending the best college we can? Do our Kid's help poor central americans for the sake of a life changing college essay?

Aren't we creating a generation that will look back on us with a jaded eye?

Just saying'

Posted by gunnparent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 9, 2012 at 8:51 am

i ask again how did this situation develop at home?

would she have been featured if she had not gotten into stanford?


Posted by One more mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2012 at 10:06 am

@ gunnparent

I completely agree with you. I was trying to say the same thing, but you said it much better than I did.

Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

Gunn Parent and One More Mom,

I'm always looking for students like that. If you know of any that will be back at Gunn or Paly next year please contact me at ckenrick@paweekly.com and I will follow up.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I am writing this as a Paly parent who has experienced depression, at times severe, for almost the past 20 years. I applaud this young woman for having the courage to come forward and share her experiences. To me, it doesn't matter what school she is headed for. It is that she she shared her experience with the very difficult and real depression disorder and mental illness in general. My dream is that some day the terrible stigma associated with mental illness will dissolve, and that mental illness will be accepted as any other real disease/illness which is what it really is.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2012 at 5:55 pm

We have a student at another "prestigious" national university and it is really clear they cater FAR LESS to entering freshman than they do at Stanford (our student is way beyond freshman year but most of them found it tough going at the particular uni of which I speak).
Stanford REALLY supports their entering students and greets them, cheers them on. I have read some really amazing stuff about all this (including in the Stanford student newspaper) -- look, a lot of other places, you are all alone in the big city.
This student (going to Stanford next fall) should consider herself fortunate - she will constantly be assisted and reinforced as a freshman - it is NOT like that at some schools we know which are really sink or swim.

Posted by neighbor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Another thing, we know students at a couple of other state flagship public universities and I have been pleased to hear that some of these institutions are very high quality. I am sick to death of the Stanford-centric syndrome here - get out of your bubble.

Posted by wow, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Its amazing to see that even when one may appear to "have it all", theres still underlying issues that cant be seen. I went to high school with Julia and she is an amazing girl and will go far in life. I would have never guessed her to be having these issues but that just goes to show how you can never make assumptions...congratulations to her for all of her accomplishments so far and being able to overcome and share about her battle with depression.

Posted by Southern Roots, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2012 at 11:19 am

As the mom of a Gunn grad - Many thanks to Anonymous (a resident of another community, on Jun 8, 2012 at 9:23 am). Bravo to you! I hope someone will tweet, fb, pin, +google (or all of the above) your post so everyone can read it.

Posted by DidYouSeeIt?, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2012 at 8:25 am

Most of you are missing out on this performance at Baccalaureate: Web Link

Posted by Maria Pascucci, a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2012 at 7:52 am

Julia Maggioncalda is such a brave, wise young woman. It took me having a panic attack on the bathroom floor during a final exam my senior year of college to learn the lessons she's learned in high school. Her story needs to be shared with students nationwide. I will be sharing it with the students in my network. Thank you Palo Alto Weekly for featuring her story! We break the cycle of perfectionism when we speak out and help others see that they're not alone.

-Maria Pascucci, Campus Calm™

Posted by Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 16, 2012 at 7:52 pm

It's not just her...a lot of people experience this. At least she has all her achievements and success to reassure her. How are we supposed to feel if in the end, we failed and had nothing to be proud of? It's even harder.

Posted by Michaelquiek, a resident of Palo Verde School
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