By: Steven Nelms
The facts of the matter are thus:
- The first graduating class of Plano Senior High School began a tradition in 1976 of donning one and only one distinguishing white stole to recognize those who graduating with a GPA of 3.6 or higher, signifying a graduation “With Honors”.
- This tradition has been reviewed, voted upon, and upheld by Student Congress twice; once in 2004 and again in 2008. With a new generation of students may come a reconvening of Student Congress to vote upon this decision.
- For the last 40 years not one club or organization has been recognized by any regalia, cords, or stoles at Plano Senior High graduation.
Those are the facts. Do not confuse the issue as one of administrative oppression or favoring inclusiveness above recognition. The fact is that final GPAs have been posted for over a week and students have been reminded to obtain their white stoles by the deadline to be worn at graduation so that they may be recognized for their academic achievement.
And yet, it seems that the headlines beg the question. They assert, before having ever said anything of substance (if indeed they ever get around to it), that valuing inclusiveness in a student body is a sin above all other sins; that the school is smearing individuality; that conformity is being forced; that egos need coddling; and that Plano Senior High is unwilling to recognize a higher standard. Let me be transparent. I am a Plano Senior High alumni, class of ’08. I went to a four year university right out of high school, the first two years of which were of little challenge for me because of the education and preparation I received at Plano Senior High. In the cafeteria, by a large and impressive case of trophies, reads the phrase “A Tradition of Excellence”. That is what Plano Senior High represents. It is a school that holds the highest standard for academic achievement. It has one of the highest graduation rates in the country, some of the highest pass rates for AP testing, and has had multiple candidates for the district’s Teacher of the Year (the winner of which this year was one of the math teachers, Mr. Yee, from PSHS). To insinuate in any way that Plano Senior is not a school that not only values, but insists upon excellence and high achievement is smearing a school’s name that has done nothing less than encourage each and every student to be just a little better.
Now let’s return to the discussion of inclusiveness being such a terrible thing. Where has our value for camaraderie gone? Where has our value for unity gone? Why is it that we are so willing to sacrifice continuity on the altar of individuality? I am not saying that the individual is not incredibly important and should not be challenged uniquely to reach their individual goals. But to say that it is a “bad lesson” or that it is wrong to value inclusiveness is saying something very different. It’s saying that team work isn’t as important as personal stats. It’s saying that standing together isn’t as important as standing out. It’s saying having each other’s backs isn’t as important as having more or having the best. We are breeding a culture that looks down on shared success and would rather see a single victor.
When I look out over the graduation of the class of 2016 from Plano Senior High School, I will see one body. I will see a population of students who are willing to stand together in solidarity wearing their maroon robes with a smaller population of exemplary students donning their white stoles. No other acknowledgment is necessary. No other exclusivity is required. Because the heart is that they are most proud to be a Plano Wildcat and it is that image that they are most interested in exhibiting. It is a sad thing that unity can be so easily stomped underfoot when we’ve allowed ourselves to be convinced that the most common denominator is not worth celebrating. The most common denominator is that we are Wildcats. Not members of this or that organization. Not presidents of this or that club. Not officers of this or that class. We are Wildcats and we are proud of it. The expression of that solidarity is a tradition. That tradition is worth celebrating.
The reality is, no student who performed highly in academic achievement will be deprived of being appropriately acknowledged. The decision to not allow club or organization specific regalia will be upheld. Individual achievement will still be recognized, but not to the specificity that some students would like. But I think the question is worth posing: Why are we so scared of being another face in the crowd if that crowd is one we ought to be proud to be a part of? I graduated with honors and wore the white stole. But I was more proud to be wearing the maroon robe than the white stole. I’m not against recognizing personal achievements. But I am against the idea that we deserve to be recognized for personal achievements. Because what that teaches the next generation is that their work is only as valuable as the recognition they receive publicly. Is that the message we want to send? Is it what we want taught? Is that what will actually produce a better society?