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Teen talk: well-rounded but not well grounded?

Sharon Shatananda

Sharon Shatananda

Any student even remotely near college age can’t escape the word “well-rounded.”

For a culture so strongly against actually being round, we spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over that word. Supposedly, wit you aren’t well-rounded, you can’t go to college, and your high-school years were virtually a waste.

At least that’s what most students tend to understand.

In my earlier days, I thought of this “well-rounded” idea as perfectly logical — necessary, even. But as the classes got harder and time more precious, I couldn’t help but notice how damaged the idea really is. In order to be well-rounded, you have to participate in clubs, play sports, do community service, and, of course, keep those grades up.

First, it’s physically impossible to be in so many places at once, while still “living in the moment” and “enjoying your youth.” They say that high school is the best time of your life — relaxing with friends, going to movies, and enjoying the freedom — but with all the excess clubs and activities we jam into our schedules, there just isn’t time. Everyone you talk to joins a club he doesn’t care about. Why did you join the Environmental Club? Oh, you know, college apps.

When we force ourselves to participate in so many activities, everything loses its pleasure. Any club becomes a point on an application; every community service project is worth only the hours it provides. The whole idea of community service is becoming a sham. Real opportunities to make change are sabotaged by the necessity for an extra something. Anything. Just get it on the resume.

Doing five different things means we can give only a fifth of our time to every activity, leaving no time to actually dedicate ourselves to any of them.

It seems hypocritical to expect a high-school student to go to school and juggle community service, clubs, sports, and usually a job as well. Adults aren’t expected to excel in their work, volunteer at retirement homes, play sports, and join clubs after work.

In real life, extra activities don’t result in a pay raise, or a promotion. After college, and especially once we move into the workforce, all those “extras” are just dropped. Because once we’re in college, we no longer need to participate in meaningless activities to prove our worth to admissions officers. If high school is meant to prepare us for life, or at least try, then the expectations should be more realistic.

I’m not advocating for a generation of do-nothings. I just want the opportunity to focus on one thing I have a passion for, without seeming undedicated or apathetic. People my age aren’t given the chance to pursue a passion; we’re all too worried about beefing up our applications.


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