By, Sam G. ’19
“Most Likely to Succeed?” is a new column being introduced to the 2018-2019 Panel Backpage. In this column, the Backpage editors interview a highly-respected Winsor faculty member about an embarrassing or difficult time in their life, specifically during their middle school, high school, and early college years. The purpose of “Most Likely to Succeed?” is to teach Winsor’s student body that you, in fact, do not need to be fully formed at the age of 14.
“I switched to an independent school in 10th grade, and it was a culture shock,” began Ms. Stern. Ms. Stern, who had gone to public school in New York City up until 9th grade, used to find that she didn’t have to “work very hard to do well” in her advanced and gifted classes; she “did the homework, studied for tests, and just did well.” Ms. Stern said that upon entering 10th grade at her new school, however, “doing that same amount of work was not getting [Ms. Stern] the grades [she] had gotten before [the change in schools].” Many students attended the new school for a significantly longer time than Ms. Stern, and “they were all getting As and were all in the advanced classes.” “I started feeling really like I was stupid,” Ms. Stern confessed, often comparing herself to her classmates who were “getting As when [she] was getting Bs.” “We would have reading to do for English class, and I’d do the reading, and then we’d be in class the next day discussing…and I’d be sitting there thinking, ‘I did the reading, but I didn’t see any of that.’” Ms. Stern would quickly jump to conclusions, wondering “what’s wrong with me? I must be stupid.” What Ms. Stern didn’t realize at the time, however, was that her classmates “had been doing that kind of stuff for as many as ten years,” whereas she was just learning new academic skills such as close reading. Ms. Stern said that “[she] started feeling really bad about [herself], causing her to develop a coping strategy, telling herself “well, if I don’t try hard, and I do badly, then I can tell myself it’s because I didn’t try”; Ms. Stern thought if she tried hard in her classes and did poorly, “it must have meant that [she] was stupid.” “It never somehow occurred to me that I could try and do well,” and “mostly it felt like I just didn’t measure up,” said Ms. Stern on the remainder of her high school experience.
The feeling of academic inferiority that Ms. Stern carried throughout high school began to change in college, when she “started to do better, although it took a while to get to that.” Upon looking at her friends from high school, who are all turning 60 this year, Ms. Stern sees a wide breadth of careers, few of which were expected by their level of success in high school. “A lot of us are just doing good jobs and interesting work,” said Ms. Stern; in fact, one of her friends from high school “who got all As all the time” is a librarian, like Ms. Stern, who said “we’re basically doing the same thing.” Ms. Stern commented that “at the time, it felt like I was being left in the dust, but I wasn’t really.” Ms. Stern added that when she “sees students [at Winsor] feeling like they’re stupid because they haven’t cloned a gene or won an Olympic medal,” she considers her high school peers and their life paths. “There was all that angst about who got an A and who got a B… but now we all have interesting lives and have gone through some difficult stuff…and just because we’re not famous or wealthy, it all ends up that you just want to repair the world and do what you can to make things better for people.”