I am afraid of silence.
Not the quiet kind.
Not the kind that’s welcoming,
Ushering you into tranquility,
But the kind that swallows you.
The kind that roars like waves,
Crashing over you,
Again and again
I am afraid of silence.
The kind that makes you feel
As if you’re a little kid again.
Talking so fast that nobody understands.
Talking to keep away the silence,
But nobody’s listening.
They wait for you to finish,
They wait until it’s once again their turn,
And they disregard everything you just said.
I am afraid of silence.
You try so hard to connect,
To create conversations that they’d enjoy,
But they don’t like you.
The silence once again creeps in,
It seeps in through your pores,
It takes over your organs.
It shuts you down.
I am afraid of silence.
A blank mind, empty.
You can’t hear a thing they are saying.
Their mouths are moving, but no sound comes out.
Ignored. All you want is friends,
But instead you receive silence.
I am afraid of silence,
It doesn’t always mean quiet.
It can be acknowledgment you never got,
Interest, that was taken away.
They forced you
Into that silence,
The silence that I am oh so afraid of.
They took that little girl,
She only wanted to talk.
She only wanted friends,
Friends who wanted her just as much.
But she was robbed.
The silence took her.
And yet, though she is afraid of silence,
She welcomes it.
It tells her to shut up,
It whispers mean and nasty things.
And she always listens.
Because the silence never lies.
The silence is always there,
The silence is always creeping.
It hears the girl, it listens to her talk.
Talking to walls.
The walls that dared to say that they were friends.
The silence protects her.
It takes her in.
The silence will always allow her thoughts.
The silence is her only listener.
And yet, she is still afraid.
She knows that silence is on her side,
And yet, she longs for a friend.
And yet, she longs for human ears,
To hear her. To actually listen.
But that cannot be if there is silence.
I’m 6 feet in the air, not looking down, a smile plastered on my face. I hear the cheer music blasting clashing with my coach screaming, “You’re hitting!!! Stay up!” Suddenly, I feel my foot start to turn and my body becomes unstable. And then, the worst thing imaginable happens, I fall. I fall quickly yet it feels like it takes a million years. I land face first, the tears flow and I feel the pain internally and externally. How did I get to such a low point? Throughout my 8 year long cheer career, I have been constantly asking myself this exact question.
As a kid, I was extremely small in all ways. I was healthy and ate like a teenage boy at the age of 5, but I was still very scrawny. This is why I was a flyer on my cheerleading team. The flyer is the smallest girl that gets held up in the air by her bases and backspots. Flying was my passion, tumbling was cool and all but there was nothing better than flying. After two years at Energy Kidz, my mom and I made the decision that I wanted something bigger. Obviously winning isn’t everything but I wanted something more competitive. Energy Kidz was certainly fun, but when it came to competitions, we had little to no chance of winning against big-name gyms. My mom researched other competitive cheer teams in the area and we eventually found the perfect fit for me, Cheer Extreme Allstars.
After I stopped cheering at Energy Kidz, I joined the competitive gymnastics team. I ended up deciding against trying out at Cheer Extreme and just wanted to stick with gymnastics. However, there was a place in my heart that knew how badly I would miss cheerleading. Luckily, it wasn’t two late and I got to go to makeup tryouts for Cheer Extreme. Then, I was placed on a Youth 2 team where I was center flyer. I immediately loved everything about Cheer Extreme, it was more competitive and challenging than Energy Kidz. It began to be too much to have gymnastics meets and practices on top of cheer competitions and practices so I eventually quit gymnastics.
Since 2015, I have gone to Cheer Extreme. However, I’ve battled myself many times over my decision to still continue doing the sport I once loved more than anything. My first two years at Cheer Extreme were great, I was flying center and my tumbling was progressing faster than ever. My third year is what sparked my hatred for my body. I was on a Junior level 4 team and I started off the season as center flyer as I had been previously. I felt like I was on top of the world. However, I was probably 10 or 11 at this point and I was growing rapidly. During the summer, my coach called my mom and said I wouldn’t be flying in the main stunt. My mom called me and broke the news. I remember that moment and those feelings like it all happened just yesterday. I ran to the bathroom and bawled and bawled until I had no tears left. It was the worst feeling ever to know that my size was holding me back when I was really an amazing flyer. Throughout that year, I pushed myself to work extra hard and go to flying classes and work on my skills.
The next season was the worst for me, I was on three teams, flying on one and learning how to backspot on the other two. Three teams is a lot for anyone, but as a 12 year old trying to navigate between school and 6 practices a week, it was overwhelming to say the least. Any trace of my social life was decimated that year. In March of 2020, we had one of our last competitions in Orlando. While we were there, we heard all sorts of things about a new virus called COVID-19, and the competition was cut short. I enjoyed it though because I got to spend the whole day at disney, the last day before Disney closed for months. When I returned home, I heard we had virtual school for two weeks. I was shocked as I had never gone through anything like that before. For months, I couldn’t go to cheer, I couldn’t do the thing I loved the most and it destroyed me. I also knew I was becoming taller and taller and the second I stepped foot back into the gym, I would be “grounded” (a term for flyers who get too big and have to learn how to base). I did all that I could to prevent that and at the time I didn’t realize how detrimental that was to my well being. I was 12 years old working out for hours each day so that I could have the “right” body type. I hated myself. Why did I have to be so much bigger than all the other girls? I lived with the hatred of myself for two years.
Once we were allowed back in the gym, I was grounded as expected but my body issues didn’t end there. Being grounded felt like my wings were being clipped. My love of flying was ripped away from me because of how tall I was and how much I weighed. After this point, my body issues just increased. When I was 13, I started tracking my calories. I would limit myself to 1200 calories a day. That is 800 less calories than the average woman is supposed to consume each day. In total, I was missing out on 5,600 calories a week. However, I didn’t care. I didn’t mind the constant pang of hunger in my stomach, I didn’t care about eating, I only cared about how I looked in my uniform. If I went over my calorie limit, I would freak out. I didn’t realize how much I was destroying myself.
Recently, I have become much better about feeling confident with myself and understanding that food is fuel. However, as long as I do allstar cheer, body image issues will still exist due to the stigma around body type in all star cheer. Not being a flyer anymore definitely helps with my confidence. I no longer have bases telling me I’m “too heavy” or asking what I ate that day because I felt “heavier” than usual. As much as I miss flying, I’m glad that part of my life is over and I make sure to never say anything like that to my flyers. As much as I love cheer, I fear the only way to permanently fix my body image is to quit. Who knows when I will finally be able to close this long chapter of my life and move on to the next thing? But for now, I will continue my usual routine including the sport of all star cheer.
She stands by herself, but is never alone,
for her mind takes her to faraway places,
and between her hands is the key to her home.
As she flips through the delicate pages,
the girl lives through dozens of lives,
meets hundreds of people, and walks across
countless worlds, each one beside her at all times.
Through the ocean and the rain and the frost,
through the desert, the mountains, and the forest,
She walks and she dashes and she runs.
She adventures and takes on perilous quests,
and she stands before the rising sun.
She sees empires rise and fall,
and watches conflicts ignite and subside.
She learns what it is to be brave despite it all,
with the support of those by her side.
The girl faces forces larger than life,
but her feet stay firmly on the ground.
“I’m not backing down,” she passionately cries,
and she inspires those who are around.
She settles down, and with a bittersweet look,
the chapter ends, with a smile upon her.
“Let’s do it again,” she says, closing the book
and already reaching for another.
I never wanted you but I always needed you. I never loved you but I always craved you. Your presence never impressed me but your absence pains me. You were never the one but you were always second.
Without you, I’m alone.
With you, I am filled with glee.
I always needed you,
But you never needed me.
More alike than we think, we hate hard but we love harder. We keep our feelings hidden, because vulnerability equals weakness.
Jealousy is a disease. I should be diagnosed as terminal. How can we share parents? How can we share a last name? You’re the flower of a rose and I’m the thorn that everyone cuts their fingers on. You’re excellence and I’m mediocrity. You bring delight and I wreak havoc.
Just as broken as me. Living life but not loving your existence. Making it through, but not savoring joy. Chasing happiness but it’s faster than you’ll ever be.
Alone when I’m surrounded by people
Fulfilled when I’m with him.
Breaking when I’m strong. Cracking cause I’m weak.
Living in eternal misery.
Traces of contentment slipping through the cracks.
Laughter and joy once filled the space. It had no clue where this joy came from, why He was always laughing, or why the one that made him smile would always come dancing into the room. The beast would run around on her little feet knocking into the table and destroying whatever was on top of the glass. This went on for months—it missed the touch of his fingers as He had once spent hours with it. However, those hours had never been joyful for Him; the hours spent with it were always accompanied by yelling and loud noises. It was His escape, His comfort when nothing else could take Him away, it could. Now it was left behind, lost to the one that made Him smile: forgotten. A spark of hope would wash through every piece of its body when it thought it caught his eyes, yet he never truly looked at it, dusting away in the corner. Just the walls of his mind or the pictures on the wall behind it.
That was until something changed. It was not sure what, but the one that made him smile and laugh, like it used to be able to, stopped appearing through the archway. The laughter stopped echoing from his now lifeless room where the voice of that one, that would make his eyes dance, rang out. This place had lost life and there was nothing anything could do to bring the light back into His eyes. The dog must have sensed the change in Him soon after. For days that small beast would sit by the door and wait for Him to come back, or he would let the beast inside his, what seemed, permanently closed entrance to the lifeless space he slept. After what seemed like weeks it started to lose hope that He would never recover, that was until, at around two am when he came out of the soulless space and reached for it. Dusting it off, he looked at It with a quizzical look and remembered the times he used to use it on a weekly if not daily basis. The time with it had been lost completely, given to the one that made him laugh.
Its hopes rose too quickly because He put it back down in the corner and rushed to the lifeless space. It felt its own body sag within itself, retreating to the inner lower bout. Next thing it knows there is a sound coming from behind the closed door. Unfamiliar yet homely. This sound was similar to the noise it would use to make with him. He comes dashing out the fixed door, the sound of papers fluttering to the ground coming from inside the haunted room, and snatches it from the corner. For the first time in what felt like a year, it got to see inside the room once more. The bed was rumpled and unmade, clothing was thrown everywhere, and a controller stationed at the base of his bed. With careful hands, he rests it on his quad. The slight movement to the headstock shot hope into them. Then their sound rang out, flat and off-key, but it had made noise. With the tightening of the tuning pegs and their noise ringing out once more, light flashed into his eyes. A small almost unnoticeable smile tugged at his lips, but it still noticed. Glee and pride swell through the sound hole as the strumming continued. This guitar was being used once more. This continued for the next week, each time the guitar thought it would be the last time, but he kept picking it up each day. Testing new cords and piecing together songs and following melodies. Warmth and life slowly returned to the once lifeless room. The beast pranced around, in time with the guitar as He hit its strings. After all this time, he remembered the guitar and sought it out to bring him back to life. As time went on, the sounds the guitar made become fluid and gentler.
I know not why I anger at you
I anger at myself in turn.
For when you turned your eyes from me
You were but another.
For I am a child born of every turned gaze,
Of every closed door, every brick in the wall
Separating me from the laughing voices
Forever ringing in my ears.
A wall which only grew with time
For I know not how to swim nor scream that I am drowning.
My only escape clinging to false hope
That someday I shall rise and walk across the water unscathed
Lifted by miraculous unseen hands.
A vacuous bliss my only escape
From the sinking dread ever growing.
Yet I anger at myself, as I have before
Wondering when the day will come that I shall scream.
I wish I could tear down everything in the mirror
Because I hate having to look at strangers.
I hate never being able to speak for myself
Which is why I stay silent.
What is it that they see when they look at me?
I never do know.
What is it that they read from my words?
I never know.
I wish I could be faceless, nameless
Because neither is my own.
The weight of daylight hangs heavy on my shoulders
The clouds shuffle along, an aimless march,
The floor slowly sinking beneath my feet
The lights gash at the night sky
Lighting amber the falling snow
A galaxy of discolored stars
A song slow and plodding
Here amidst the silence of the stars
I am safe
same sight ahead
same sinking dread
same withered dead cold
same thoughts left untold
same bright silver threshold crossed
same city overcome by frost
same unspoken burden of lost hope
same deserted truth like tightening rope
save me, I can’t bear this any longer
I have a dangerous proposition
For you today, standing here in Honors
English class. I’m here to tell you that
I despise the English language. Okay,
I don’t mean ALL of the English language,
But I think we can agree that a lot
Of what we accept in the way we write
And speak every day is ridiculous.
Many of our English rules are like orphans,
With no obvious source or home. We must
Get rid of some of the more senseless,
Confusing rules we use, so that English
Can be MUCH easier to learn and write.
One of the most infuriating
Examples of the absurdity of
The English language is the homophone.
These words just hang out like rats behind a
Dumpster, waiting to bite someone who
Uses them incorrectly in an essay!
For example, take to, two, and too,
Three words that, when spoken together, sound
Like some ritual to summon demons.
As an entire English-speaking
Population, we decided that
Instead of coming up with three completely
Different words, we should use three words that sound
Exactly alike and randomly
Assign their spelling and meaning! But we
Didn’t stop there (or they’re or their). English
Homophones lurk everywhere, just waiting
(Or weighting) to grab you and pull you under.
Sell or cell – one of them you use on eBay,
And the other one placesputs you in jail.
Beet or beat – one of them is a nasty
Vegetable, and the other one leaves
You bruised and bloody (looking like a beet).
I could go on for (or four) days (or daze)!
Now, what’s the deal with silent letters?
Somewhere along the way, we all decided
It was okay to just throw a few
Extra letters in some of our words for
No good reason. They’re like zombie mutants,
Dead and having no purpose, waiting
Around dark corners to take you down.
You know them –- see, right there – KNOW! Where did that
“K” come from? They lie in wait to knife you
In the back. Or nife you in the bak!
Totally useless! Sometimes, we even
Toss in more than one, like in high or thigh.
Could you really not understand the word
If that last “GH” went away? But no!
Wasting toner! Destroying forests!
We keep throwing around these useless
Ghost (see, there’s another one!) letters.
The walking dead! Kil them. Kil them now!
In fact, some of our letters are pretty
Freaking useless all the way around.
Take the letter “C”. No, really, PLEASE take it!
We use “C” to make the “cuh” and the “sss” sound.
Now, can you tell me what other letters
Can make the sounds “cuh” and “sss”… that’s right…
THE LETTER “K” AND THE LETTER “S”!
The letter “C” is just wasted space in
The alphabet, and it steals the jobs
Of “K” and “S,” who must also think
This is pretty stupid. Think about it.
We could turn “coccyx” into “koksyx”
In the blink of an eye (or an I – those
Stupid homophones again!). I would also
Argue we could do totally without “F,”
Replacing it with “PH”. Yes, I know
That this takes two letters, but they’re already
RIGHT THERE to be used! Why throw in another
Letter and confuse things? We’re all pretty
Smart. If we all just agreed to drop these,
And do an update to autocorrect,
We’d be all set. We should eliminate
These pointless letters, immediately!
I feel sorry for non-English speakers
Who are trying to learn the English
Language. The crazy spelling rules and
Random silent letters alone would drive
A person nuts, and that’s before you
Even start to think about comma rules,
Agreement, or other technical rules.
I’m not here to argue that we should
Abolish English, but I definitely
Think we can simplify it. Until then,
As we go into our next semester
Of Honors English, we will just have to
Obediently continue to
Follow the rite of learning to write right!
Joshua Ward, Class of 2026
It was sort of
watching my mother cleave in two.
It wasn’t nice peaceful–more like eerie peaceful. I can’t explain it; she broke, as if she was a flimsy piece of wood and the surgeon’s blade, a saw. Finally, from inside my mother’s stomach, I caught my first glimpse of the outside. The lacerations the surgeon gifted were the rungs of my ladder–the mangled chunks of flesh I gripped to heave myself out of her stomach. Suddenly, I faced the real world. It was so morbidly devoid of sound…until it wasn’t.
“Do not lie to me right now!!!”
“YOU SAID IT WOULD BE A BOY, YOU LOUSY DOCTOR.”
“What the HELL do you want me to do with a girl?”
The loudness was insatiable. It tore through the room, consuming every trace of warmth and light and joy. I wished it would swallow me, too, so I could become so small a sliver of flesh that they could never see me and lay their angry eyes of venom upon me. I wish I could disappear. No one wanted me, not my dad or uncle or grandpa. I heard their shouting. Their screams strangled me, stealing my air bit by bit until I felt my being disintegrate. But something wouldn’t let me disappear. It was that piece of herself my mother left behind: her blood. It was the red sap that oozed all over my body, clinging to every hair and sinking into every pore. The blood didn’t let go of me. It kept me tethered to this world, unwilling to let me evaporate. Blood was my armor.
“I’m sure you messed another thing up.”
“What the HELL is wrong with you now?”
“You look like you saw a freaking ghost.”
No, I was the ghost. I had to be dead right now. I simply had to be. There was no other possible explanation for the blood between my legs. The first day, it looked like a bit of spittle–the kind of sludge the men spit out after a smoke, except with a red tinge. The second day, the blood disappeared. The third day, the blood returned with a parasitic fervor, forming crusty, lichen-like growths as it dried on my twig-like thighs. It was undeniable; the time for my death had come. But right when the first tear welled in my eyes, my dad trudged in and snatched my arm. He saw me, and he felt my body. I was a tangible being. So, no, I didn’t die, and I wasn’t a ghost. What was the blood then? I thought he’d say something about it, but he didn’t. He didn’t see the blood, and I couldn’t interrupt his stream of instructions. He said the guests arrived. But the blood. He said they wanted tea. But the blood. He said don’t spill the milk. But the blood. Then, he finally saw it, and a flood of relief displaced his usual dullness because he knew I wouldn’t be his burden anymore. Within a week, he found a man for me. Everyone told me he was my husband. He looked more like a dad, though. His white shirt was crisp; it looked like money. He seemed nice, but I didn’t like leaving my dolls because I felt alone without them. He promised he’d buy me more, but he didn’t. He forgot, and I didn’t ask. I realized that dolls wouldn’t change anything. I was utterly alone. Blood was my curse.
“What a WHINER!”
“She is SUCH a drama queen.”
“The cut’s not that bad. KEEP WORKING.”
That’s what my mother-in-law said. And she was right, I think. I mean, she’d been right when she told me how many eggs were there in the fridge this morning, and she’d been right when she told me the time the mailman would come. So, I knew she was right in this case, too. I accidentally sliced my palm cutting one of the slippery gourds, and I thought it looked bad. But she said it looked fine, so I should keep cutting the vegetables and mopping the floors. The pain wasn’t bad at all, she said. I believed her, except for the fleeting moments when I felt like my mind shattered with pain. I wished I could cry. But I didn’t even know whether I should cry or not. Everyone said I shouldn’t. Everything was fine, but was it? Were my wounds not deep enough, not painful enough, not real enough to be worthy of tears? Then, I saw the blood dripping from the cut, glazing my skin molten red. It told me my wounds were real. It was the only thing that recognized my pain. Blood was my witness.
“DON’T BE LAZY, WOMAN.”
“We DO NOT have all freakin’ day.”
Then, the quiet devoured every scream, sucking each sound into an abyss. Stillness swept the room. Suddenly, it was peaceful. This time, it was nice peaceful–not eerie peaceful. I touched my baby girl’s nose and her cheeks and forehead. She was real. She looked nothing like me…and it made me happy. I didn’t want her face or her life or anything about her to be like me. Blood shouldn’t mean to her what it did to me. It meant everything to me–far too much. It shouldn’t have been my only tie to my mother, and it shouldn’t have been the sign that I was ready for marriage, and it shouldn’t have been the only validation of my pain. It should have been meaningless, just a fluid hidden in my veins. But it never was just that for me. I was blood’s pawn, relying completely on it for any hint of relief but weeping over every ounce of pain it awarded me. But my daughter and granddaughter and great-granddaughter–they will not be its pawns.
They cannot be.
Blood is my second chance.
Note: This is written from the perspective of my great-grandmother, Yadlapati Alamelu Mangamma (of course, with creative license taken). Her mother died when she was young, and she was married at the age of eleven. Here, I hope to share just a piece of the pain she experienced during her life.
Working on yet another essay, you sit with your back propped comfortably in the homey nook of your chair. The screen illuminates the room with a soft white hue as the clickity clacks of your keyboard fill the otherwise unbroken silence. Finally, deciding on the topic and the introduction, you begin your somber march towards the assignment’s completion, checking the time as you do: 8:12 PM. Plenty of time. You’re a couple of sentences in when all of a sudden “bzzt bzzt” your phone shakes the table breaking your concentration. Motivated, you get back to the essay you’re writing, typing feverishly and completing the next sentence you drag your finger across the screen finding another one of those cooking trick videos. Astounded, you look back at the clock. 9:42 stares glaringly back at you; an hour and a half, gone. Frustrated and fearful of the impending deadline you resume your work only to find yourself once again caught in the addictive clutches of Tik Tok, doom-scrolling away any hope of completing the assignment by a reasonable time.
The story of endlessly wasting precious minutes on various social media outlets or games instead of work is a relatable story for many. But that makes sense right? Clearly, with our vast exposure to new methods of time-wasting and technological advancements that brought a buzzing attention whore into the pockets of many, a parallel drop of focus should occur. Statistics even claim that “the average attention span is down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 to eight seconds now. That is less than the nine-second attention span of your average goldfish” (Maybin). With a fish’s apparent superiority in time management, the prospect for an argument against this decline looks uncompromisingly bleak, or does it? Just as many people argue that the decrease in long-term focus may be a hoax and that many of the examples used as evidence for this decrease may actually be causing the opposite. So, that leaves the question, is there truly a decline in the average person’s attention span? Or, is the concept of this deterioration simply hearsay?
Perhaps the most commonly cited evidence for the human race’s collective reduction of attention lies in social media. With 4.48 billion people now using at least one variety of this service (double the number of users from 2015) it’s no wonder it’s such a common and relatable example (“Social”). The average person spends about 2 hours and 24 minutes a day ( 5 years, if an individual lives until 70) on social media; their exposure to the short clips they receive makes them addicted to the simple, quickly packaged videos and pictures social networks feed them. According to Neurologist Lady Greenfield, this comes from the various sites’ provision of“‘instant gratification’ due to the instantaneous nature [of the information] that operates at ‘unrealistic timescales…’ encourag[ing] the reward center of the brain to signal as it does with drug use… [and accustoming] the brain to operate on unrealistic time scales” (Deitchman). As the brain becomes used to the short bursts of information received from social media the reward pathway triggers, causing a mental link between these short clips and positive neural transmitters. Ultimately, the result of this is a deterioration of focus in favor of the bursts of positively received information that come from social platforms. Despite this, studies show that “routine social media use—for example, using social media as part of everyday routine and responding to content that others share—is positively associated with three health outcomes [social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health]” (Roedar). These benefits are helpful in producing a happier environment, as well as physically improving the health of networking app users. With them, a contradictory argument emerges that the growth and use of social media can help foster situations that actually benefit the individual in ways that are conducive to improved attentiveness and attention endurance. With better health and mindsets these users claim the opposite of those who preach mental training, showing the true indecisiveness of the issue of social media.
With the rise of social media and technology use also comes a very expressive and distracting notification system. The direct result of this desperate attention-seeking system is, of course, a diversion of focus from the task at hand. Which instead shifts to curiosity about whatever correspondence the individual received. At first glance this may not seem like such a big deal, just a small moment of response to whatever app or whatever person needed something; however, “the average professional receives 304 emails every week, checks her smartphone 150 times per a day and spends 28 hours each week reading and responding to emails” (“Infographic”). The constant distraction of a device’s presence costs the average worker over a day of time and focus by itself in a week, but that’s not all. Stopping and checking a phone around 150 times means stopping in the middle of tasks or work, scratching an individual’s itch to know why their device notified them in the first place. Constantly having this urge and these notifications during working hours ultimately prevents workers from focusing on one task for an extended period of time; training them into sectional, short-stinted working periods, between which they check their devices. Ultimately, this on/off work pattern causes a decrease in the worker’s focus endurance. Despite this, there is an argument for the fact that technological notifications may not be a problem that genuinely affects attention span. Discluding the simple possibility of turning off these notifications and silencing the device, “we can become so strongly conditioned to expect a reward each time we look at our phone we don’t need to wait for a ping to trigger the effect” (Horwood). Pings and vibrations don’t necessarily make you pick up your device. In fact, the notifications from technology may have little effect by themselves on anyone’s attention span. The real issue becomes the psychological change that trains your brain in a way that makes it “expect a reward.” Things like a break from work, a text, funny pictures or clips, etc. The main argument claims that the distraction from a technological device remains similar when notifications are both on and off, which critics of the declining attention span theory argue negates the possibility of physical interruption’s effect.
Greater access to information may ultimately result in a loss of focus or attentiveness and reduce the amount of time an individual can stay on task. According to a new study by a team of European scientists, the human capacity for receiving that abundance of information can be exceeded by the sheer amount we have access to: “allocated attention in our collective minds has a certain size, but that the cultural items competing for that attention have become more densely packed” (HÖVEL). With more information being fed to the average consumer day by day, the individual must learn how they can filter through all of the information, and remember the most important details. Postdoc Philip Lorenz-Spring presents a similar idea explaining that “content is increasing in volume, which exhausts our attention and our urge for ‘newness’ causes us to collectively switch between topics more rapidly” (HÖVEL). Ultimately these studies demonstrate that as humans gain access to more information they run out of the energy and attentiveness necessary for understanding the news they recieve. Due to human’s lack of comprehensive ability, when this kind of information overload occurs the brain responds by becoming tired of the subject, seeking a new concept or topic of focus. With the constant flow of information technology offers the population suffers this effect constantly, increasingly limiting individuals’ ability to focus on one task as we gain access to more and more information. Even to this point, however, there are still plenty of individuals who are critical of the studies’ information. Dr. Gemma Briggs, a lecturer at the Open University is one of those critics claiming that “‘average attention span’ is pretty meaningless. ‘It’s very much task-dependent. How much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is’” (Maybin). Briggs and others who don’t believe in a reduction of attention spans claim that the amount of information has nothing to do with the amount of attention given. Instead, these groups support the notion that attention must be dictated by interest, varying based on an individual’s interest in the information they are considering. From this perspective, the same statistics used as support for the idea of lowered attention spans due to higher informational access may just be a result of more topics being considered. The argument ultimately claims that if an individual with the same attention span receives more information then they will automatically find more things they have little interest in, showing the supposed increase in attention deficits.
With the dawn of new technological advancements and access to all sorts of inventions that may reroute human interest, the idea that our ability to remain focused on a singular subject suffers seems like the next logical conclusion. But, with every argument for our supposed decline in attentiveness, an equal amount of support falls behind a counterargument for how human it may have improved or remained the same. With so much analytical opinion on both sides and so little concrete evidence, it remains currently impossible to come to a satisfying resolution as to whether or not we face a trend of decreasing attention spans.
The letter A is primarily known as an article in the English language, but it is also a variable in math equations, a vowel, a piano key, a blood type, and the third most likely answer choice on the 2022 SAT. Fitting roles for the first letter in the alphabet. But this letter is best known to us as a determinant of our self-worth. It varies based on the scale—1400 to 1600 on the SAT, 32 to 36 on the ACT, and 89.5 to 100 on a standard grading system—but the sentiment remains: an A is to fulfillment and validation as anything less is to inadequacy and disappointment. An A is much less an innocent academic goal than a restrictive, addictive lifestyle. After all, this stellar GPA doesn’t come without a cost. The education system’s rigid demands for perfection and excellence are impossible standards to uphold, but not for us. Some may question at what expense, but we don’t like talking about sleepless nights, academic burnout, and perpetual stress; they ruin the effortless, idealistic facade of an A-student. Many praise this pursuit and call it discipline, but we, the victims of academic validation, know it as a trap. Once you reach such a standard of perfection, nothing else matters beyond grades and accolades. It’s an addiction, but society endorses it because there’s no drug label to warn them about the severe side effects of academia in fine print. And we know these side effects better than anyone because we feel the highs and the comedowns on a day to day basis, but we can’t help it: an A is something we’d do anything for.
And for good reason. Securing an A—that academic validation—is incredibly rewarding for us, especially in schools with near immediate grade feedback. Between the praise, the pride, and the power, which kid could refuse the promising, pure pursuit of an A? In a conceited way, we like being smarter and more accomplished because high school is a vicious competition, and if you didn’t know that, clearly you’re not in the running.
But really, if you want the truth, the pursuit of an A is a time-consuming, soul-draining endeavor that perverts our authentic, inquisitive nature. We don’t learn because we figure clotures or horizontal integration will prove useful in our futures or because we’re curious, but because there’s a government quiz on Tuesday and an AP U.S. History multiple choice test on Friday, and we have to be within the top 5% of scorers or else…well, there is no or else. For the A, we’ll stay up all night, sore eyes strained, glued to the computer until birds begin chirping outside and sunlight spills through the curtains. Don’t worry, we excel at cramming information and regurgitating it on tests even on a couple hours of sleep. It’s our specialty. We’ll go to school, take the test, and spend the rest of the day wondering if the burning in our eyes and the lingering unfulfillment in our hearts can be resolved with a quick nap or a good cry. It never really goes away, but naps usually help (at least with the fatigue). Nothing really remedies this emptiness and exhaustion except the notification that we earned an A, and even then, it’s short-lived. And then we do it again. I mean, if cramming and memorization violate the whole purpose of learning, why does our school system foster and reward these quick fixes? At its core, pursuing an A is not a purely academic endeavor but a careful game of survival. It’s balancing as many APs, Honors, extracurriculars, and leadership positions as we can without collapsing under the pressure. Because you’re not a true A-student unless you can receive the presidential service award and lead at least two clubs (or sports) all while maintaining a straight-A transcript. Like I said, an A is more than a one time grade. An A is an obsession—an all-consuming, dangerous, inescapable addiction.
But don’t blame us—blame our dealers. Blame the peer pressure. Blame the parents who expect their children to be excellent while ignoring the grueling process by which excellent children are formed. We are victims of an education system that has no qualms about turning a blind eye to the uninspired, drained students who roam school halls with vacant gazes if it means the U.S. national GPA keeps increasing. If there’s one thing we can say for sure, it’s that we didn’t choose this lifestyle. And we’d choose it again and again, but don’t mistake this “choice” for fulfillment—the pursuit of an A is an obligation, and we are miserable because of it.
If we examine the term with a broader lens, modern society’s fixation on academic excellence (achieving an A) is emblematic of man’s shift towards perfectionism. Historically, the greatest scientists, philosophers, artists, and athletes demonstrated that progress and resilience in the face of failure are keys to accomplishment. But as America, an end-product society, evolved, the focus shifted from the process to the outcome, leading to an obsession with perfectionism and a near visceral revulsion to failure. Everything must be perfect now. Attractive body, clear skin, shiny car, big house, loving family, full bank account—it’s all part of America’s sick, unrealistic perfectionist culture. Today, adults and academic institutions force this ideal onto us as if they don’t understand how dangerous it is. We understand it perfectly well. Take it from us, the pursuit of such “glorious excellence” is nothing more than a grim, monotonous series of memorization and regurgitation that ruin the adolescent experience, mental health, and personal growth. Once an empty letter used for assessing academic mastery, the A is now an emblem of America’s empty, perfection-obsessed standard.
An A-lifestyle is not synonymous with luck, smarts, or genetics. There’s nothing smart about obsessing over a letter because it’s minacious (you can thank the Barron’s 500 SAT Flashcards for that word). In fact, these common qualifiers discount all the effort we put into curating the perfect college candidate. But that’s how America likes it: exceptional without effort. The A-lifestyle is all about projecting intelligence and perfection while covering up the hours of effort we pour into studying and working. It’s about pretending we have everything together when in reality, we survive by telling ourselves that next week will be better. It never is.
Like it or not, I know I’ve conformed to this pseudo-successful A-lifestyle. I am unhealthily afraid of failure, and I will do anything for my academic success. I base my self worth on how close to 1600 I can push my SAT score, my stomach burns with anxiety before exams, and I can’t help but compare myself to my peers. To me, an A is so much more than a flawless transcript and an impressive college application. A‘s are the dark rings beneath my eyes I smother with color-correcting concealer every morning. A‘s are the nights my mom turns off my bedroom lights at three in the morning because I’m passed out at my desk on my history textbook. A‘s are the invitations I declined and parties I’ve missed for biology exam cram sessions. A‘s are the unwavering hope and support of my parents who want the best future for their daughter. A‘s are the emotional and physical efforts I’ve poured into this empty, academic endeavor. A‘s are my reassurance that these overrated, superficial, sleepless four years will be worth it…
I really hope it’s worth it.