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Madelyn Chen Headshot

The Pressure of Pressure

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Inside the brick walls, around the lines of lockers, between the rows of desks and within the minds of high school students, a war rages on. The war has been silent for the most part, with battles occurring internally, save for the occasional outburst or breakdown. The enemy is stealthy and omniscient, ranging from friends to family and extending to the entire world at times. The battlefield centers on the complex world known as high school, spilling into social life, family life, and simply life in general. It is a war that has claimed many casualties, wrecking lives without a care and destroying people with a single stroke. Amidst this scene of carnage and chaos, facing a vague enemy and uncertain battle, is the average high school student, a lone fighter against the pressures of the world.

The war cannot be touched, or tasted or smelled, and appears only in baggy eyes with a certain hopeless light, betrayed by random outbursts or sudden breakdowns, a struggle against an oppressive enemy. The defendant, the adolescent high school student, is armed with only the strength of their minds and capability of their bodies, while the attacker, the entire world, entangles them in a web of confusion and fatigue.

Attacks are mounted from all sides-from the side of family and home come pressure to succeed, to do well, to bring back a nice report card and get accepted into a decent college. Teachers throw daggers from behind whiteboards and desks, in the form of massive loads of homework and a multitude of exams, ensuring little to no rest. Even the presumed comfort of friends and allies can be a double-edged sword, with complicated friendships and social criticism weaving into the fray of high school.

Plain graphite, when put under immense pressure, turns into valuable diamonds. And so to the rest of the world and even adolescents themselves at times, high school is the stage between normal graphite and sparkling jewels, when intense pressure is applied, presumably justified by the Machiavellian theory of the end justifying the means, of extreme pressure leading to valuable diamonds. Without pressure, there can be no diamonds -- but high school students are not as durable as graphite or as brilliant as diamonds.

Diamonds are unflinchingly hard, but high school is a soft and impressionable time of malleable minds unable to handle extreme pressure. Each high school student is a gem in their own right, through their own personality and experiences, individual and unique, and the pressure placed upon them by society and the world at large is unnecessary and detrimental. Along with uncertainty about identity and a desire to fit in, high school teems with pressure from all sides, entrapping the adolescent in a war against the world and themselves.

The first siege comes from the very institution itself, the physical building and invisible atmosphere of high school, the main battlegrounds of the war against pressure. Only for most, it's a losing battle, a one-sided fight that ends with pressure overwhelming high school students. It's all too much for fragile minds fresh from childhood, minds unable to cope with the sudden flood of assignments and the rigid teachers, the cliques and judgmental peers, the sleepless nights and drowsy days. There are expectations -- so many new standards, bars set unimaginably high, raised by parents who push them onwards, teachers who believe in success, siblings or acquaintances who have succeeded, and peers engaged in a mysterious competition for an unknown title.

Everyone expects something, for the donkey to carry the new load thrust upon it, and do tricks and gallop quickly at the same time. And so they push -- unknowingly or otherwise -- nudging the donkey to go faster while simultaneously weighing it down. The responses to these burdens vary by person -- some simply can't stand the pressure pressing down upon them, unable to meet up to the demands of society, to the demands of their friends and family, to their own dreams and expectations. Those are the ones who crash, who collapse under their burdens and simply cannot deal with it all alone. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those who thrive, who feed on pressure and burst in enviable fireworks.

The majority of high school students however, neither come crashing down nor shooting up under pressure, but instead hover in the middle, surviving each day, but bearing scars and bruises. The pressure of the world weighs down upon their backs, but they shoulder the pain, struggling each day, in hope of a lighter future, in hope that pressure is merely an inconvenient necessity of success, that the more they can handle now, the less they will have to later.

By denying themselves a relaxing today for the slivery promise of a good tomorrow, high school students become their own worst enemy, succumbing to the pressures around them and even enforcing the negative energy. Four years out of an entire lifetime is not nearly as long as it may seem, and high school is the last fortress before the full flavor of adulthood is released, and rather than try to get a head start in the adult world by drowning themselves in stress and pressure, adolescents should view high school as a time to thrive, a pause to add to their concepts of their selves, to sit back and enjoy life. High school ought to be focused on classes one is interested in, in friends one can relate to, in experiences one will remember even past four years better spent exploring than staying in a single place.

Take a deep breath. Step back. And relax. Forget it all, even just for an instant -- forget the workload, the exams, the intensive four-year high school plan from your counselor, the classes you're planning to take next semester. Join a club, go outside, take a nap. Take a break. Call a ceasefire in a war that won't be defeated by surrendering to pressure, but instead by defying it, reclaiming high school from the grips of others, and taking the reins of your own life into your own hands.