An exercise in mathematics

Let’s do a little math. That’s right, I heard you groan. Don’t worry, I promise I’ll make it quick! Whip out your trusty TI-84, turn it on, and type in your current GPA. Then, take that number and add the number of AP classes you have taken. For good measure, take that number and multiply by the number of extracurricular leadership positions you hold.

That was pretty pointless, right? Now, clear the screen and wipe the memory on your calculator, because it’s time to forget about that number. Sometimes, being a high school student feels like it’s all about those kinds of numbers. We observe them tirelessly, attach ourselves to them, and pour endless time and energy into pursuing them. Whether we are applying for officer roles as a sophomore, memorizing APUSH terms late into the night as a junior, or spending hours wrestling with college applications as a senior, we have a tendency to let these numbers absorb our entire lives. As students, what we need is a way to break free from these measurements and cast off the burden of having our entire characters distilled to numbers. This, I feel, is what LM has given us. An opportunity to grow within ourselves, establish our own standards of success, and forge our own paths toward progress. An opportunity to construct our own character and to muster the courage and confidence necessary to defend that character against the judgment of others. An opportunity to measure ourselves not by the expectations of our peers, but  by our own sense of motivation and purpose. Through every person, every conversation, every moment, for those are the gifts that LM has bestowed upon us.

We as a society tend to obsess over achieving perfection. That’s why we assign all of those numeric labels to our work as students. But what we often forget is that this definition of perfection amounts to nothing more than an arbitrary mathematical formula. Like the one I had you punch into your calculator earlier, it is arbitrary, pointless, and frankly ridiculous. What that formula for perfection fails to consider are the small, abstract victories that we experience every day, what we often call “character”.

Character isn’t something you can describe with numbers. You can’t measure it, you can’t graph it over time, and you can’t observe it under a microscope. But that is what makes it so crucial. It means lending a hand to a struggling friend, putting another’s needs over your own, and being a voice for those that are afraid or unable to speak up. It means being a peer, a partner, a team-mate that those around you can depend on. It means being willing to fail, and being excited to lift yourself back up to try again, over and over, unconcerned with the amount of times you fail to succeed, but rather the determination with which you succeeded in trying. When we preoccupy ourselves with perfecting the quantifiable, we lose sight of these values. They are things that numbers simply cannot measure.

While character counts, that doesn’t mean we can count it with numbers. So take a step back, and ask yourself whether you are letting the numbers overwhelm you. Think about what really matters, not to me, not to those around you, but to you. Think about what you can do to be the best version of “you” that you can be—chances are, the answer isn’t more SAT practice tests.

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