The pressure of perfection


Humera Lodhi

Students struggle with maintaining exemplary academics
Every day of the fall semester, senior Minna Oba drifted off to sleep around 2:00 in the morning after hours of studying. After a few hours of restless sleep,  she woke up, ate a hasty breakfast and dressed in a hurry before rushing off to school. Exhausted from lack of sleep and continuous studying , Oba would drag herself in to talk to teacher, going over confusing class material or reviewing information. She spent countless AUT’s and lunches in the library, pouring over textbooks and notes to cram in a few extra moments of studying before tests. Despite all this effort, in her senior year, Oba lost the one thing she spent all of her high school career chasing.
“Losing my 4.0 was like losing my baby. I was pretty disappointed because I had worked so hard to the point where I felt like a crazy person. All three years of high school of working my butt off just got wasted away because of one A minus,” Oba said. “Keeping it was important to me just because of the fact that I had worked so hard in all of my classes to keep it, and then [to] not see all that hard work being paid off was disappointing to me.”
With such a high bar for herself, it was necessary for Oba to devote much of her time to this one task. Each class, no matter how easy, required dedication and attention. All this studying, however, did not just take away from sleep time. Because of the amount of time spent maintaining her grades, Oba had to cut back from other activities. Extracurriculars activities and social outings all came second to school.
“People have no idea how much time it takes to keep my grades up. They don’t realize the amount of effort and time that goes into it. I spent hours studying. Hours. Literally, that’s all I would do after school – homework,” Oba said.  “I never hung out with people after school. I missed out on soccer games, basketball games, football games, going to church youth group.”
Oba is not alone in her quest to maintain a perfect GPA. Chemistry teacher Gregory Kirchofer often has high-achieving students come to him complaining about low grades and believes many spend too much time trying to maintain grades.
“I generally have Honors and AP Chem students. They come in ‘struggling’  with class. And by struggle I mean, they have a 92.5 [percent]. There are students who are overly focused on getting A’s or getting good grades,” Kirchhofer said. “They spend too much time chasing after a certain grade. There needs to be a balance, there’s other things in high school, other experiences students need to have besides worrying about grades.”
However, Oba does not quite agree with Kirchofer. While she spent much of her free time studying, Oba does not feel like she missed out on high school experiences. Admittedly, she spends more time pouring over books than her peers, but Oba still has a full and active life. There are days when she takes breaks from studying and relaxes by  spending lunches laughing with her friends, going out to restaurants with her boyfriend, or watching movies with her family.
In this regard, senior Prarthana Patel is not so different from Oba. Both prioritize education over most other things, and both believe it is essential to their high school careers to maintain their 4.0’s. Like Oba, Patel spends much of her time studying, but still finds ways to relax. She too enjoys watching movies with her family, although her favorite way to de-stress is by going on jogs or walks outdoors. And like Oba, Patel does not think maintaining her grades has taken away too much time from other aspects of high school experience.
“I would say that it has taken some time away from extracurricular and social activities, not a lot,” Patel said. “I have learned to manage my time well so that school work doesn’t completely take over my extracurricular or social activities. “
Despite this, both Patel and Oba agree maintaining a 4.0 has added stress to their high school careers. Had her GPA fallen earlier, Oba said, she would have relaxed more throughout high school and have had less to worry about. While she still wants to maintain a high GPA and get good grades, there is not the pressure and expectation she had before, Oba said.
Patel, on the other hand, still struggles to maintain her perfect GPA and because of this goal, Patel has endured several stressful days. Last semester, Patel had  to spread her time between school, her leadership position in Rock Bridge Reaches Out, and her internship. In addition, Patel’s classes are not exactly easy; she is taking numerous college-level classes. Many times, Patel said, it has seemed impossible to get an A in a class because of difficult tests and exams.
“ I was really stressed before my Calculus III final exam last semester. My grade in that class depended a lot on my final exam grade,” Patel said. “ I was nervous partly because it was my first final exam in a college class, but I was also stressed because I was afraid that I would lose my 4.0.”
For high achieving students, especially one’s like Oba and Patel, who take numerous AP and honors class, maintaining a high GPA is an important aspect of not just high school, but their future careers. Patel has applied to several accelerated medical school programs. These programs, like the one at University of Missouri- Kansas City that Patel wishes to go to, begin directly out of high school instead of after undergraduate college like most medical schools. They last for six years, and at the end, students receive an accredit medical degree.  For Patel, a strong GPA is an important part of her application.
“I want to maintain a 4.0 because it makes my college applications stronger,” Patel said. “ It can help me get accepted into my dream schools and receive an excellent educational experience. It also motivates me to challenge myself a little more and achieve my future goals.”
Though it can be hard to juggle everything at once, to students like Oba and Patel  it is essential to devote time to their academics first. Other students, however, will do the opposite, Kirchofer said, and will push academics and  will prioritize other things, like their social life, school clubs, or jobs. Neither of these two extremes is correct, Kirchofer said, and the key to having a holistic and fulfilling high school experience is somewhere in between.
“There are definately students who don’t spend enough time on grades. It’s really easy to tell and it shows. But there are always those students who worry too much and spend too much time,” Kirchhoffer said. “Neither side is good and neither side is better. Like I said before, there needs to be a balance in maintaining grades and academics, like there should be for all things in life.”
By Humera Lodhi
Art by Ellie Stitzer