Was It All Worth It?

Members of Arlington's Class of 2018 reflect on stress, ambition and burnout on the road to college.

Gift Habeshaw for Unsplash


“I’ve sacrificed a lot, and it’s hard to think of what could have been,” says Hannah Karlin, an H-B graduate who will begin her freshman year at Amherst College this fall. Sleepless nights and panic attacks were a less-than-optimal part of her high school experience, but they did provide some valuable perspective. “I think it was worth it,” she says, “not because I excelled, but because now I know what I don’t want to do, exactly what I don’t want to repeat. I know how to grow.”

W-L graduate Sarah Conley, a future Notre Dame student, says that in retrospect, even the toughest struggles served a purpose. “I think the amount of work they give you is appropriate and that’s what’s going to prepare me for the future, but sometimes the delivery adds more stress and pressure than is necessary,” she says, alluding to one difficult teacher in particular from her junior year. “I’d walk into that class sometimes, and I’d be shaking. But when it’s all said and done, I know I’m going to have professors that I don’t get along with,” she says, and learning how to manage conflict is a skill. “Overall, I think it was worth it.”

Emily Brooks isn’t so sure. A Yorktown High School graduate on her way to Pomona College, Brooks is candid about her struggle with depression, which she says was amplified by her intense workload, busy schedule and teachers she perceived as unsympathetic. “I honestly don’t know what it was worth,” she says. “It ruined me mentally.”

Brooks recalls feeling like one teacher would look down on students who got grades less than A’s, assuming they weren’t working into the late hours of the night. Though she’s excited to swim for Pomona, she has mixed feelings as she heads to college: “I did put in a lot of hard work, but…I don’t know if that struggle was worth getting to where I am today.”

Katie Dodds, a W-L grad and admitted perfectionist who now heads to the University of Virginia, says the intense pace of her high school years came at a price. “I see myself and all my friends going through different issues with mental health, and I really think it comes from or is exacerbated by this environment,” she says.

Though her parents and friends frequently remind her to relax and take breaks, Dodds says that’s easier said than done. “I’m surrounded by all these high-achieving students and it makes me feel like I have to be as good as they are all the time at everything. I think that the Arlington school system needs to change in a lot of ways. It would definitely be helpful for them to add more resources to deal with the stress and pressure that they’re putting on us.”

Categories: Education