After being admitted into Hopkins in sixth grade, I remember my dad telling me that my classmates would be a bunch of other Katherine Takoudeses.
He explained that just like me, my peers would have driven work ethics and a passion for learning; instead of standing out for being excited about school, I would fit right in. To some degree, my dad was right: everyday, I am surrounded by passionate and inspired students who are deeply committed to the Hopkins community. But in other ways, he missed the mark.
In seventh grade, I found myself surrounded by people who were the exact opposites of me. Living on the shoreline for my whole life, I met friends from towns I had never heard of, like Fairfield, Bethany, and even Wilton. Some of my peers had gone to private school their whole life, while I had always been at public schools. Others came to Hopkins with friends from their old school, while I came knowing only one person. There were three-season athletes, students who had taken advanced math since first grade, and instrumentalists with a decade of experience. I struggled through the first few months, constantly questioning my abilities and comparing myself to the successful students I saw around me.
Ever since those first moments in seventh grade, all facets of my life on The Hill have been woven into this culture of comparisons. It manifests itself in all types of ways: with grades, sports, class levels, auditions, standardized tests, and leadership positions in clubs. Whether subconsciously or deliberately, we students create a culture of comparison among ourselves. We constantly evaluate ourselves against each other, magnifying others’ successes to tantalize our own.
It’s easy to fall into the cycle -- in person, with numbers, or on social media -- of comparing our own accomplishments, course loads, grades, athletic abilities, or looks to those of our classmates. We often come to one of two conclusions: we are either on top of the world or not doing nearly enough. Usually it is the latter, where we stress ourselves and others out with unrealistic expectations and feel discouraged by our abilities.
A less obvious comparison is the former, where we also differentiate ourselves for reassurance. I often see people justifying their own “bad” grades by evaluating it against another student’s worse grade. Both types of comparisons cause one person to pit their own successes and failures against those of someone else, by zoning in on only one facet of each of their lives.
In reality, no two Hopkins experiences, no matter how similar they seem, are identical. Factors such as commutes, extracurriculars, jobs outside of school, family situations, education before Hopkins, and having older siblings at Hopkins all influence our performance at school. All students, teachers, and parents measure and define success on different terms, meaning demoralizing comparisons are created over materialistic and subjective standards.
As a junior, I have noticed this culture in the context of the college process. It comes up during conversations with friends at lunch, during advisor group, and even at my family dinner table as we compare how much we have done with standardized testing and touring colleges. People quantify their entire junior year into a list of grades, SAT and ACT scores, and number of AP courses, and then use those few guidelines to measure their success against others.
To some degree, comparisons can be healthy: they can motivate us to be better, stronger, or harder-working people. The tendency to compare ourselves to others seems to be borderline impossible to avoid. It is integral to our growth, especially during our transformative years at Hopkins. Self-comparison, where our growth is not dependent on the work or standings of others, is especially benefcial and necessary. But comparisons to others should not make us feel worthless and demoralized, especially when measured against our own arbitrary levels of what constitutes success.
We are often sucked into the comparison culture without fully recognizing its magnitude. Constantly weighing our own success next to the success of others begins to dictate who we are and what our priorities should be. Yet students can choose to opt out of this uroboros of the comparison culture at Hopkins. Although it is diffcult and takes constant practice, it is much more productive work than engaging in the destructive cycle of comparing oneself to others.