Duck Syndrome at Cupertino High School

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This is my article from issue #5 of 2017 in Cupertino High School’s newspaper, The Prospector

For a moment, imagine Cupertino High School is a bright blue lake. The students are ducks, gracefully wading through the water. From the outside, everyone would agree that the lake is a serene, peaceful environment. However, a whole different story is told from the perspective beneath its surface. While the ducks seem calm from above the water, they paddle furiously with all their might to stay afloat and get from one place to another. The message of this simple thought exercise is as follows: in educational settings, people feel the urge to appear calm on the outside while in reality, they are frantically attempting to tie up the loose ends of their lives.

This phenomenon, known as ‘Duck Syndrome,’ is a result of students choosing to internalize their struggles, rather than sharing their plight with others, in order to make it seem as if they are in full control of their life. In highly competitive environments like CHS, many students juggle numerous AP classes and time-exhausting extracurriculars, all while maintaining an active social life. More often than not, students feel forced into adding more to their plate than they can handle, but fear that complaining or expressing their plight to their peers will come off as showing weakness. Instead, students continue doing more than they can feasibly handle, appearing seemingly unfazed on the outside. Many students trap themselves in a bubble of stress, overwork and sleep deprivation that is on the verge of bursting.

Said senior Kartik Nighojkar, “It has become the norm for people to take multiple AP classes [and do numerous activities] outside of school … Because of this, students often get bogged down by work … I think a lot of students don’t want to seem weak or inferior in comparison to their peers. As a result, they try to hide the fact that they could be struggling or they might have too much work. They want to appear as if they are on par or superior to their fellow friends.”

Funnily enough, a solution for this problem is in the analogy itself: translate the distraught paddling beneath the surface to above it as well. Confide your academic struggles with your close friends—chances are they share the same difficulties. One creative solution is the ‘Places I’ve Cried’ Facebook groups that have been spawning in various universities around the United States, from Stanford University to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, with the goal of providing students with an outlet to be honest about things that happen to them. Members of these closed groups share, as the name of the group suggests, places they have cried in the hopes of gaining compassion and support from classmates. It is time for CHS to follow suit.

When asked if he knew a possible way to rectify the presence of ‘Duck Syndrome’ at Cupertino High School, said Nighojkar, “I honestly feel that a solution to this kind of problem would not be able to happen until everyone currently at Cupertino High School graduates … it would need to be a long process where the entire culture of over-exerting oneself would need to be changed … People should not put others down if they say for instance, ‘this might be too much for me.’ … it seems that students are pressured into taking higher level classes even if they do not want to, and I think that needs to change.”