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Am I Special Enough For d.tech?

Malia Savella | msavella19@dtechhs.org | June 18, 2018
Art by Malia Savella

At d.tech, we believe that the world can be a better place, and that we can be the ones to make it happen. So, what are you doing to make the world a better place? Have you filed for a patent? Have you built a hydrogen car engine? Have you created a talking plant? Have you hacked at the White House? Are you using your entrepreneurship, your intellect, your drive, your grit, your creativity, your charisma, your resourcefulness, and your self direction to push the limits of innovation and reach for the stars?

Or are you not?

In a quest to fulfill one of the most ambitious mission statements of any school, d.tech drives its students towards individuality, achievement, and revolution. The administration shows its support by providing a platform for students to achieve their wildest dreams. However, that support might not mean much to the huge group of students whose dreams are still developing; in fact, this group might not feel supported at all. Junior Tony Julian had doubts when considering transferring to d.tech in 2016, recalling that “When I first heard about [d.tech], I heard it was a bunch of kids who were really cool in technology and STEM-related things. I didn’t feel like I could fit in.” While he eventually made the decision to attend d.tech, Julian says he has a hard time keeping up with d.tech’s pressure to pursue a passion. “[Other students] seem to be driven so easily,” he says. “I’m getting through school, and I’m interested in all the things that other kids are doing, I just don’t have any drive to do it myself.”

Some students find that drive to be necessary to attend d.tech. Junior Aidan Janzen believes that students should be “doing something to get yourself out there, rather than sitting on the couch,” and that unmotivated students “just lack creative confidence”. In his eyes, all students have a creative outlet that they can and should pursue. Sophomore Daniel Pang, on the other hand, feels the school’s focus on changing the world just “freaks us out”. “I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect of sophomores and freshman because we’re still learning…I’m still getting used to d.tech,” Pang says.

Nevertheless, d.tech’s administration still pushes for its students to be as driven as the world needs, somewhat conscious of the pressure the student body feels. Dean of Student Culture Henry Lonneman sympathizes with the challenge of trying to make an impact, saying that “sometimes, it’s hard to change our own lives…I don’t want to alienate students who don’t want to positively contribute, I want to help them figure out how they can.” Dean of Student Experience Melissa Mizel sees the feelings of inadequacy as developmental: “There are self-inflicted levels of achievement you feel like you have to attain…it’s a natural feeling when you’re in high school”.

This natural feeling is sometimes called the impostor syndrome, a condition where people who have earned high-up positions feel undeserving of where they are. It commonly manifests in students in prestigious schools or universities; as an MIT alumni, biology teacher Neal Addicott is familiar with the impostor syndrome. “I certainly remember feeling [the impostor syndrome] when I was [at MIT]… if you objectively look at your accomplishments, the evidence says you belong and you’re doing OK, but people discount that evidence and have this unrealistic ideal where they’re like, ‘I should have five patents by now’”, he says. It’s easy to develop the syndrome in an environment as competitive as MIT or d.tech, where student projects are the face of the school. While such schools would never admit to there being an ideal student, traits such as ambition, creativity, and innovation are highly praised, pressuring students into performing in order to prove that they belong.

d.tech students have a habit of imagining an ideal d.tech student that they need to live up to, one who’s following their passion relentlessly. “If you would’ve asked me this freshman year, I’d be like, ‘Oh, yeah, somebody who’s doing their schoolwork at their own pace, they’re finishing classes super early, they have a passion project, and they’re in the DRG 24/7”, says junior Lauren Shannon. Ironically enough, Shannon fits the bill of her own description, as someone involved with a highly ambitious project (a glove that detects breast cancer) to which she’s devoted her junior year. As an underclassman, she stressed over not having the big idea d.tech was encouraging students to work on. Now, as a junior with a project, she says, “I am passionate about [my group’s glove project], but it’s not my true passion. I haven’t found that yet”. Similarly, junior Alejandro Muirragui spent his sophomore year following a passion project to Open World, Oracle’s annual tech conference. He programmed a device that tracks location through wifi, a commitment that lasted almost 10 months, yet says, “I don’t like programming at all. My passion is actually away from electronics”.

Every high school student feels stress. Every high school student compares themselves to others. However, the brand of pressure and insecurity d.tech students feel is unique to d.tech, with its ambitious goal of fostering world-changing students. Perhaps students would feel better if the definition of “world-changing” went beyond creating the next breakthrough technology,  starting your own company, or finding your passion at age 14. d.tech encourages students to pursue large-scale projects, however there are many smaller ways to make an impact. As Julian puts it, “If I know I’ve pushed myself at least a little bit, then I’m okay”.

 

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