The 21st century teenager is unique. More so than ever, there is an implicit obligation to grow up early and have accomplished something significant before leaving for college. This pressure doesn't derive from our motivation for success; rather it comes from a fear of failure. The academic competition is intense and in order to keep up the demands of the admissions office we fill our plate to the brim with extracurriculars, SAT prep and community service. You know the deal. They want it, we do it.
It's a never-ending circle of nervous breakdowns and ceaseless comparisons. A self-fulfilling prophecy. A desperate scramble for achievement, and yes... glory. Nobody is to blame, we all partake in this messed up system. Students, teachers, counselors, college rankings... and of course, our parents.
Parents fuel the fire, but not in the way that you'd think. Instead of criticism, we receive abundant praise. Dinner parties become boasting competitions. Every poem is worthy of being published. Every student body president will eventually step into the oval office. Every "A" on a statistical probability test demonstrates a well-paid future at NASA. This is not to say that we, the students, actually believe the ego-boosters our parents shower us with. But who can blame them? They are the post-civil-rights era: liberal in mind and excessive in love. We soak it up, nod humbly, and accept the praise because it's what we want to believe. They've set the standard and in turn, we try to fit the mold.
At 17, we already know what you want to hear, and sometimes we're convinced it's what we want to say. We're on a path of continuity. Never hitting walls, roadblocks or retreating in indecision. And always, ALWAYS taking the road less traveled by. These are the idealized alter-egos we plaster on paper.
We show you an alternate reality because we believe the "the system" has no room for imperfections. Even our quirks must be scoured and glossed. We are flawless. We are superhuman. We are not to be associated with words like "average" or "normal." To you, we are hardly teenagers. When you look into the depths of our eyes (or the Times Courier New, 12 font) you don't see a kid, you see a future. Nobel laureate, secretary of state, Academy Award winner... take your pick! Essentially, there is a gap between who we are and who we claim to be. This gap fosters insecurities and doubts (ironically), because we believe that every other student actually is what they say on their resume.
But here comes the moment of truth. As our lives manifest themselves on sheets of paper, can we really live up to the people we're professing? And even worse, is that semi-fictionalized, purified version of the self even good enough for the schools we have been programmed to apply to? I am not cynical. No, no. I am simply an insecure senior wondering if the person I've been made to believe I am is even enough. Enough to "make it." Enough to continue my parents' unassailable praise; Distorting myself until I am the mold, yet aware that the mold is what's truly distorted.
But let's talk numbers. Roughly 94 percent of Stanford applicants will be rejected. For kids applying to public universities from out of state, numbers can be nearly as low. As the applicant pools get larger every year, our chances decrease. Come on, how many Pulitzer Prize-winning-PhD-attorney-generals do you actually know? I'll play your game. I'll act the part. But in the end, we can't all win the high stakes. Hopefully I can cope with that.
Life is a scramble; a lot of this is luck. I just hope that who I am, who we are, is not lost in translation. Maybe sometime I'll be able to step down from the pedestal. Maybe you'll still see gold. Maybe, someday, "extraordinary" and "normal" can go hand in hand. Because in the end... Superman and Clark Kent are still one in the same.