It’s refreshing to see modern children’s movies set a more motivating example than the magic-dependent fluff characters I grew up with. That’s one reason The Princess and the Frog is one of my favorites. It was the first movie where Disney said: “That old star can only take you part of the way. You got to help it along with some hard work of your own.”
Hard work is not a foreign concept in Mason High School. Though it is not intentional, competition has become the mortar that holds the walls in place. You need hard work to make the team, the cast list, the Student Government position, the spot on Chronicle staff. You have to do more if you want to feel adequate, let alone special. And that’s hard. But, it’s necessary.
The idea of “special” has become tainted over time. I spent four years in a Pennsylvania school system that never motivated me to push past obstacles. In that school, we were taught each person was unique, destined for great things. That’s a wonderful thought process that fails in practice. Most people end up being just like everyone else. It is not humanly possible for every person to land their dream job or college, to be known and revered, to reach gigantic aspirations. So few people get to be exactly what they want to be.
Special and different are two separate things. Just because we look different from one another does not mean every person is born with a claim to greatness. I am not great just because I’m here. “Special” is not something you get to be because you exist. It’s something you earn.
Yet students are hand-held through their educational lives. I remember retaking failed tests with the teacher over my shoulder. I remember neglecting to turn in homework assignments without repercussions. I remember playing the recorder in third grade, where each of the hundred kids got a solo during one of the three recitals. I remember the participation awards, the no-one-gets-left-behind policy, and the delusion that I was just as good as everyone else, at everything.
I remember the shock of moving from that small school to Mason Intermediate half-way through fourth grade. When there are too many kids for everyone to get a solo in the performance, you quickly realize that you are not actually better than anyone else. Yes, it was crippling. It was also humbling. I’m glad I discovered what reality was before being tossed into college.
An organization dedicated to preventing suicide in college students, The Jed Foundation has found that underpreparedness and overestimations have had drastic effects. Depression has spread to affect more than 14.8 million people in America alone as more students feel as if they are no longer important, and the suicide rates for college students have tripled in the past fifty years. If you have never been exposed to cuts, competition, and rejection, having it all dumped on your head at once can be devastating.
Here in Mason, I will ever be able to call myself “the best” at anything. I will always be fighting tooth and nail, beside my peers who are doing the same, to feel recognized and appreciated. And that is a hard environment to live in. But that is what the real world will be when we leave to buy our houses, start our families, forge our careers. If we want to feel special, that’s something we will have to work to achieve. That’s the whole reason “special” means anything.
Children are not special. That’s a myth that is slowly tearing lives apart. What children should be taught is, well, Disney’s Ratatouille does a perfect job of addressing that: “I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. Only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”
The opportunity to be special is there, if you work hard enough, if you dedicate yourself…and if you can understand that it will be hard. It will hurt. And there is no way to avoid that if we want a successful society.