21st Century Students -- Their struggles, Their successes

by COOPER TINSLEY - Students talk about living in the 21st century and its effect on how they view the world and themselves.

WESTFIELD, Ind. (Dec. 17, 2019) - Inspired by my own views on the world around me, I embarked on a journey to discover how the students I pass in the hallways of Westfield High School every day see the world around them. We all have our own perception of reality, but it is essential to realize that we each share a distinct characteristic: we are all students living in the twenty-first century.


Much has changed since our parents and grandparents were in school. The development of social media. The constant pressure to fit in. The overwhelming stress of college applications and the moral obligation to balance grades, athletics, clubs and still find room in our busy schedules for some personal time to reflect and recuperate. This got me thinking: were my ideas accurate?


For two days, I interviewed numerous students during lunch and received a mixture of responses. One of the five questions I asked, tended to give me the most relatable response: If you could pick one word or phrase to describe student life in the twenty-first century, what would that word or phrase be? Many students responded with “stressful” and “hectic,” while others told me that it was “fantastic” and “exhilarating.”


“I feel like education has kind of lost its value,” Gabby Wiernik (11) said. “I feel like we're just getting a lot of work and people are losing the meaning behind it, so instead of actually learning anything, I think we’re more focused on getting [homework] done before the next class period. I feel like everything is really rushed and [that's] just a lot of stress.” When I asked Gabby to choose one word to describe student life in the twenty-first century, she chose “stressful.”


Many of the students I talked to felt the same, but my only question was why? Does everyone have the same kind of stress and chaos throughout the day? Or is it different for everyone? Alternatively, many students are also faced with the challenge of fitting in, trying to get approval from everyone.


“[I’m] just trying to please everyone and myself,” Nezira Djour (10) said. When I asked Nezira to choose one word to describe student life in the twenty-first century, she chose “difficult.”


Every time I asked that simple question, I got a response right away. Not a moment of hesitation. It was almost as if they knew it was coming, but how? It’s because that’s what we students think about regularly. They were all prepared for my question, not because they knew what the question was in advance, but because they knew the topic of my story: student life in the 21st century.


“As a high school student, [we] have so much going on with [our] actual schooling, extracurriculars, and then outside of school, with [our] social life,” said Karli Mull (12).


After talking with these students, I discovered a correlation with extracurriculars. Many gave me a long, drawn out list ranging from DECA to Student Government to Dance Marathon to National Honor Society to FCCLA (Foodies Rock) and Bring Change to Mind. So, are extracurriculars the cause of this stress? Are the clubs at WHS that were meant for fun causing unnecessary harm to students? I knew at that moment I needed to find someone who was not in a club, Ryan Witlse...


I asked him that same question and he answered with “stressful yet fun,” which I thought was a very interesting perspective. I asked him to elaborate.


“The pressure to sign up for colleges earlier and earlier makes it more and more stressful, but there are a lot of things you can do outside of school that make high school life more fun [at the same time],” Ryan Wiltse (12) said. After that, Ryan proceeded to talk to me about the pressure students are under and how it impacts their life. I asked him what extracurriculars he was involved in and he said, “Absolutely nothing.”


As I sat at my computer listening to the interviews I had received so far, I stared blankly wondering what the connection was. If it wasn't extracurriculars, then what was it?


The next day, I went to school ready for my last day of interviews; however, I was not at all prepared for the responses I got.


“Exhilarating,” Ayem Bien (11) said. Dumbfounded, at the fact that I had yet received an answer such as this, I asked why.


“Because there are so many colorful faces here. We are such a diverse school and everyone just comes together and creates one big happy community.”


Ayem and I had a conversation later in the interview about the opportunities we have been blessed with as students in the twenty-first century. However, she also told me about her greatest struggles which include family life, mental health, grades and motivation.


So why are people so different? Is life stressful or exhilarating? Those questions tormented me throughout the day.


After taking time to sort my interviews and draw a conclusion, I sat down and started writing the story you're about to finish reading. I realized that extracurriculars are not the major cause of stress as I had previously thought. Instead, the stress comes from the root of the problem. The beginning of the story. The title. Twenty-first century students. This whole time I was completely set on the idea that we had brought this onto ourselves by joining all of these clubs. I was completely wrong. We were destined for this type of stressful atmosphere.

The twenty-first century has brought about tremendous opportunities for students like you and I. Extracurriculars. Music. Social Media. Service leadership. Technology. However, it is those same opportunities that create a paradox of stress, and it's important to realize that the stress we have is two sided and it all relies on our own interpretation. Our only job in life is to choose which side we want to be on. Stressful or exhilarating?


AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Writing this story has been almost therapeutic. I decided to commit to this project because I think all students deserve to know that they are not alone. Everyone, no matter social differences, are going through something similar. It has allowed me to take a new outlook on life: using that stress to motivate me and allow me to achieve my dreams. I encourage readers to really take this story to heart so that eventually, they can choose how they perceive stress: it is that stress is just a synonym for exhilaration.

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