Student Story: What’s the Value of a Blue Tassel?

Sofia was a high-performing student at an academically challenging school—and yet she was really frustrated. She was sick of the constant “pressure to perform,” and exhausted from homework overload and all of the tests her classes required. Much of this pressure was for the prestige of graduating with a special blue tassel on her cap indicating she had graduated in the top 5% of her class. She did what she needed to make sure she would get that tassel. She piled on APs and cheated in order to get those A’s. But Sofia realized that rather than enjoying the “best years of her life,” she was suffering from stress headaches and chronic fatigue, and having very little fun.

Then Sofia saw a story about Challenge Success on CNN. Finally! The voice of reason. She wanted to explore the Challenge Success program for her frenzied, over-achieving school, but she was not initially supported. She persevered, cobbling together the money she and her team of parents and teachers needed to attend a Challenge Success conference. Together they began to lead a charge to change the culture of the school. From Challenge Success, her team learned how to use strategies, grounded in university-based research, that would change the pace at school and allow kids to work in ways that felt meaningful. They conducted assemblies based on the Challenge Success curriculum that addressed changes in the daily schedule, so kids would have more time for deeper learning. They considered starting school later in the day. Students were so happy to be discussing these issues school-wide that they came up to Sofia afterward to thank her.

Sofia took the strategies she learned to heart. She dropped her AP Statistics class to pursue a photography elective, even though it meant graduating without the all-important blue tassel. And you know what? She realized that having art in her life was important and that her creative impulses were just as important as her analytic ones. Sofia got into the college of her choice in spite of being “tassel-less.”

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