-By, Betsy Kim
Currently, the senior class is in the thick of the college process: visiting university campuses, rushing to meet application deadlines, and simultaneously attempting to earn grades that will impress our top-choice schools. For many of us, however, the college process means much more than the next step in our education. Winsor girls seem to link college with long-term success and job prosperity, facing the pressure to be “successful”, not only with colleges, but also with careers. Panel Executive Staff decided to examine the pressures that students feel to succeed, and specifically, how we as a community define success. Who are the role models whom we consider to be “successful”, and why? What messages are Winsor students receiving from the school about success?
So, we first asked a group of seniors, Talia G. ‘17, Amanda L. ‘17, Sophia Sh. ‘17, and Audrey B. ‘17, to reflect on success. In response to the question, “How do you define success?”, a common theme that ran through many of their answers was the link between success and happiness. Amanda said, “Success can be an external display, such as in creating something for the world, as well as an internal feeling of fulfillment and happiness. To me, both are equally important.” Sophia agreed, saying, “I define success as being happy and having a career that is fulfilling.” To the question “Who has influenced your definition of success?”, we also received similar answers. Amanda, Sophia, and Audrey referred to their parents as strong role models and influences on their personal definitions of success. To the rest of the questions, however, each senior had a unique response that we felt should be preserved as a whole and presented organically.
1) How does Winsor define success? Has Winsor changed your perception of success?
- Talia: Winsor’s whole marketing appeal is its college admittance rates. To continue getting great kids to come to Winsor, the school needs to brag about its kids who are succeeding in the traditional sense of the word: going to nationals in their extracurricular, getting into great colleges, etc. But there’s a difference between the organization and the people inside of it. I actually do believe that many of the teachers define success differently and more holistically, like a kid finally understanding how to write a paper and getting a B.
- Amanda: I think our school tends to perpetuate the idea that success comes mainly from academic accomplishment and ability. While not always explicitly or individually expressed, I feel there is a perfectionist culture that requires us to be accomplished and excellent on all fronts, but especially in school and work. Before Winsor, I didn’t really have a concrete definition of success, but I think it has definitely cemented the idea that achievement and excellence is a part of success. However, Winsor’s also made me rethink and step back from that singular attitude and helped me realize that true success and fulfillment can only come with mental and emotional well-being and contentment as well.
- Sophia: Winsor defines success as good grades, good college, and being good at science or math. Being at Winsor has changed my perspective on success slightly because a lot of people around me share the same values.
- Audrey: Winsor defines success as contributing to the world (and hopefully the school) after graduation. Of course my school has influenced my idea of success. At the moment, it’s very focused on the next step. Success at the moment is not a safety school.
2) Do you feel pressured to meet Winsor’s definition of success?
- Talia: Well, it’s a hard question, since Winsor’s definition and my definition are very very similar. I guess I could say that I am very driven to succeed in the traditional sense of the word–get into a good college, get a great job, etc.
- Amanda: Definitely, but I think over the years it’s become a pressure mostly I put on myself through comparison with others and believing I can do better. I think Winsor has taught us that we can all do amazing things and push ourselves to be the best, but for me that has sometimes affected me negatively and made me feel I can’t rest until I reach the “success” of perfection.
- Sophia: I feel very pressured to meet Winsor’s definition of success. I constantly feel inadequate and not good enough. During the weekends or days off I worry about whether or not I am doing enough work and studying enough. Seeing all the speakers and graduates that come to Winsor are mostly STEM-orientated or have high power jobs.
- Audrey: I feel pressured to meet Winsor’s definition of success, but only because it fits so closely with the definition of come up with myself and that comes from my parents. It’s all very conventional, but that doesn’t really bother me.
3) Do you consider college to be an accurate indicator of success?
- Talia: Ahaha, here’s the million dollar question. I think it’s a bit of a leading question you’re asking; every kid has their own definition of success, so one parameter can’t be used to generalize everyone. If Person A’s definition of success is college, then yes, their college admittance is an accurate indicator of their success. But if Person B just wants to compete in horse-riding, then no, their college admittance is not an accurate indicator of their success, but their horse-riding scores might be!
- Amanda: I don’t think you have to go to a “top college” or “Ivy League” to be considered successful or to find success. Success is a very personal feeling for everyone and I think as long as you reach your goals and feel satisfied, then you are successful. I think we tend to judge people and their smartness and academic standing based on the college they want to go to or are going to, and I admit I sometimes will do that. But I think we can’t use rankings and broad statements about colleges to evaluate individuals and their capabilities for success. However, I do think college can aid you in your goal to become successful, and can give you the opportunities, skills, and connections to achieve the success you want. College doesn’t have to be a part of your success, but I think for many of us in Winsor it is closely tied with our future paths and prospects.
- Sophia: I think at Winsor, people think that college is an indicator of success so I feel pressure to go to a certain caliber school so that I will not be judged by fellow classmates.
- Audrey: Honestly, I do consider college to be an accurate indicator, because my personal definition of success involves being super smart, well educated, and having a peer group that is the same.
It seems as though we have a fixed idea of who the school wants us to be after we graduate from Winsor. To investigate where these thoughts may be coming from, we spoke to Mr. Broughton, Head of Communications, and Ms. Peterson, Director of Alumnae Relations, about the process behind choosing people to feature in “The Winsor Bulletin,” Winsor’s biannual magazine. Our conversation was as follows.
What do you look for when you feature an alum in the Winsor Bulletin?
Broughton: The first thing we look for is someone with an interesting story to tell. We often use themes as ways to find a collection of people, and we look for themes that are multifaceted: global citizens, community builders, resilient women…. So that we can put together a wide variety of stories: women of different ages, backgrounds, who’ve made different life choices.
Who is the audience you’re targeting when you’re creating the alumnae magazine?
B: Our primary audience is alumnae. But we hope that… that students like to read it. We hope that it reflects the ways in which Winsor is living out its mission, which is preparing women to contribute to the world.
In terms of defining success on your own terms, it’s a little difficult to do so when so much of what you do is defined by how other people value you. Awards, for example, are given based on other people’s judgments. Do you know an example of an alum who perhaps, didn’t really rely on others’ standards to define success? An example that comes to mind is a stay-at-home mom.
B: I think there are countless examples. One thing we do is that we let women tell their own stories… like in the reunion biographies, so every year, a class is given the chance to tell their own story – and those are the sections that actually have the most readership.
Peterson: I think the 10th, the 20th, and 50th reunions are really good examples of women telling their own stories. So it may be “my greatest achievements are ages 5, 9, and 11, I volunteer part-time at a local shelter, and that is how I define success.”
We think that students have the perception that many alums go into STEM.
P: Not necessarily. You’d be surprised!
B: There’s a lot of non-profit work. We’ve been thinking about a feature on Winsor women finance and business, because people are always telling us that we are always doing stories on nonprofit world and community builders.
P: Is there something that you’d like to see in the alumnae magazine? That would be helpful for us to know.
We weren’t aware that a lot of people were doing nonprofit work… What we would like to read about in the magazine is the distribution of alums’ employments. For example, are people in going into humanities; are people going in STEM?
P: 15 years ago, we had a heavier weight on the professional class. In the last 15 years, however, there is a very diverse group of professions. There are women in social media, women who are blogging about raising children, women who are founding nonprofits. So to watch the change in what Winsor women are choosing to do with their lives is fascinating.
So, what was our takeaway from this conversation? The administration feels that they adequately showcase a diverse group of alums who define their own success. However, the students are not aware of the diversity of professions and life choices made by alumnae, which may be because students do not read “The Winsor Bulletin.” On the other hand, we do see alumnae in assemblies and other in-school events on a regular basis. Are these assemblies where students are getting messages and ideas about who they should aspire to be? To answer this question, we spoke with Mr. Braxton, who oversees the process of choosing assembly speakers.
Panel: How do you choose speakers for assembly?
Mr. Braxton: Throughout the year, there are opportunities for a speaker or a performance. A classic example is the Best Bees assembly, where the guy talked about urban beekeeping. So how did that come about? A parent reached out to me because they thought I might be interested. So sometimes it’s just an idea that someone brings to me. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing, of cost.
Do students have a say in who comes and speaks in assembly?
No, students do not have a say, except… I did mention during Club Leadership Night that if a club wants to invite a speaker, they can come to me to talk about it… So that’s a way that students have a say. Do you have a perspective on this? I’m interested. Do you see any problems with the way it is working?
We can tell you why we wrote our center spread. It was inspired by Gevvie Stone being glorified coming and speaking to us. We’re probably more sensitive to this because we’re seniors, but we feel that there are pressures that us students feel to be like a certain person.
Are they all from a certain school? Are you referring to the speaker’s background?
Well, you can’t really say that we’re not looking at the colleges they went to… We just think it’s important to examine the perceptions Winsor students have that they think Winsor has of a perfect student.
That’s helpful to know… So one of the things I would say is if that is happening, it is not done purposefully. But I understand that whether I’m getting suggestions from other people or personally inviting people, etc. the outcome – the feeling – is still the same.
This is why we’re talking to so many members of the administration.
And what are you finding?
We were very surprised… One of the things we learned from Ms. Peterson is that Winsor girls end up entering many different professions once they leave Winsor.
Braxton: And you don’t think that’s being showcased?
We think there’s a perception that the administration picks out people that come from the same mold… There seems to be a breach between administration and students on many different topics, one of them being this definition of success.
One of the big takeaways is that we can look at more opportunities to have more student voice in suggesting speakers… And I think that’s solvable. We can have a student committee of some sort. So I think there is some opportunity in terms of students helping out with the selection process, and I think that this [center spread] can be important for providing more student voice.
What we learned from our conversation with Mr. Braxton is that due to the difficulty of obtaining speakers, often, the speaker-choosing process becomes arbitrary. We also learned that students have very little say in selecting speakers. However, this can be remedied by having a committee of seniors who help Mr. Braxton choose speakers who they want. Why would this be important? Because then we students can determine our role models and define success on our own terms.
Here are our final thoughts: due to the narrow type of alumnae that have been showcased to us, we feel that our hard work in school will only be validated by a career that is well-paying and that Winsor uses to boost its own prominence. Also, when students are so far-removed from the decisions that determine the figures who are showcased to us, we are negatively affected. In students’ eyes, the school becomes defined by the speakers and alums who are exhibited to us. We feel pressured to meet the models of success that the school determined without our input. We should create a committee to select speakers for the year so that students are not so far-removed from the process that so profoundly affects their definition of success. We students want more of a say in the decisions and events that define us as a school, which we believe can be done by making a committee of seniors at the beginning of the year to help choose speakers for the year.