We Need to Challenge the Verb “Achieve”

On the wall of the library, a discolored gray slab of concrete with chipped gold paint proclaims our school motto: “Achieve the Honorable.” It glares down upon an expansive collection of books, each awaiting a curious student. It hangs above shining computers, the drab concrete words contrasting sharply with the innovative technology. It lords over students who scramble to fulfill society’s lofty expectations for success, scribbling last-minute homework to the rhythm of “achieve, achieve, achieve.”

Our motto is worn and crumbling, emphasizing achievement above all else. It’s time for our community to reconsider whether our motto still reflects our vision.

The school website explains that the current motto asks students to “demonstrate academic and personal integrity in their work” and be “honest in all situations.” Both of these priorities are valuable; however, the school’s explanation only addresses honorable while ignoring achieve.

“Achieve the Honorable” centers around the verb achieve. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, achieve means “to carry out successfully.” The emphasis on success dissuades students from pursuing activities in which they might fail. It contributes to the crushing pressure for students to succeed in every facet of their lives.

On Nov. 12, Superintendent Constance Hubbard published an opinion piece in the Piedmonter urging parents to remind their children that they are valued regardless of their academic success.

“The world is different for the student today than in the past, and the pressure to be ‘successful’ is growing as the competition to be the best at everything expands,” Hubbard wrote.

As teenagers, we face an achievement-obsessed world. Our society glorifies the results rather than the process. We celebrate an A+ rather than knowledge. When I ask my peers how they feel about a class, they tell me about their grades rather than the in-class experience.

Newspapers report my places and times in cross-country meets but not the thousands of miles that I ran en route. They report the National Merit Scholars and valedictorians without mentioning passion for learning or dedication to academics.

Our school is actively trying to reduce the pressure placed upon students by investing in Challenge Success. In addition, by participating in Camp Everytown, our school is working to lessen the singular focus on achievement.

In her opinion piece, Hubbard encouraged parents to “communicate the value of school as a place to learn and explore, especially when grades are not perfect.”

The administration clearly values and emphasizes aspects of school beyond achievement. Meanwhile, our decaying motto still hangs in the library, burdening students with an overwhelming pressure to achieve.

For a new era, we need a new motto to reflect the change in the culture at our school.

The new motto should eliminate the verb achieve. Instead, it should encourage students to strive or persevere or explore. We need to celebrate determination, embrace failure and reward enthusiasm while continuing to value honor.

An ideal learning community values the pursuit as much as the end result. Students emphasize experience over grades, passion over affirmation. Students analyze a teacher’s comments on their essay before checking the grade. Students play sports for fitness and teamwork rather than for varsity letters. Students perform community service for camaraderie and experience rather than for fulfillment of Honor Society hours requirements.

In order for our community to achieve this ideal, we must change our motto. The dusty gold lettering in the library should be seen as an artifact of our school’s past. It is time for a clean slate and a new motto.

Emma Seevak is a Junior at Piedmont High School in Northern California. This piece was originally printed in The Piedmont Highlander. Piedmont High School participated in the Challenge Success program during the 2014-2015 academic year.

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