As our year comes to an end, and commencement season begins, I thought I would return to a question proposed to me at the beginning of the school year. The first week of school, Mr. Bolos and Mr. O'Connor posted a blog about David Foster Wallace's awe inspiring commencement speech entitled, "This is Water". The blog contained an excerpt from the speech:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys. How's the water?' And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes 'What the hell is water?'"
This question of "what the hell is water?" was proposed to our American Studies class. We were asked to identify the water in which we live. And, as the year starts to close, i feel it is an appropriate time to attempt to identify the water in which I live.
I truly believe that I live in a bubble of upper class members, in a society where people are constantly attempting to improve upon themselves, and in a world where fulfilling and exceeding requirements guarantees an "A".
A still from a video adaption of "This is Water"
I live in a bubble of an upper class community. Yes, I do know that I live in a upper class neighborhood based on average incomes and property taxes. But, with those records aside it is still apparent that the North Shore is an area of a competitive "keeping up with the Jones'" nature. Teenagers except iPhone 6s, fine dining over the weekend, and lavish "Instagram worthy" vacations every break from school. I believe that this "water" has skewed my perception of reality. The reality is that not every Americans can afford to travel out of the country nor unlimited data plans for their iPhones. They are getting fast food for dinner and investing in a flip phone for their 12 year old to make sure she got home from school okay because they cannot afford daycare. This reality was made clear to me as we watched the video "Inequality for All".
I also feel that society's "improving oneself, nothing is ever enough" mentality defines my own water. Especially in my North Shore bubble, I feel that there is a constant idea that one must strive further and further: to succeed in high school, then college, then in a job all so you can make the most money possible. And, when you make the most money possible? You make more. Why? Because nothing is ever enough and you can always improve yourself. This is a very American theme to want to improve oneself. I think that this ideal is best exhibited in The Great Gatsby. Nick finds a note of young Gatsby's before he turns into a giant success. The note is more of a schedule and list of "general resolves" that includes practicing poise and elocution, stop smoking, bathing daily, and reading one improving book a week.
By practicing "elocution" and "poise", Gatsby is attempting to climb the social class ladder from lower to upper. He thinks that if her can act proper as though he is a me,her of the upper class, then eventually he will become a member of the upper class. Additionally, reading one "improving book" a week demonstrates Gatsby's want to ride the American Dream bell curve up to the top.
Lastly, my water's identity is influenced by my education community's belief that fulfilling and exceeding requirement guarantees high marks. Up until this year, I have relied on being an "excellent sheep" in order to receive high marks in school. The idea of being an "excellent sheep" is one of William Deresiewicz's ideas. He feels that America's Ivy League way of teaching does not properly prepare students for the real world. Students are taught that if they fill and exceed requirements then they are guaranteed to succeed. Which, is simply not the case. Just being a "sheep": following directions, rules, etc. does not prepare you for life. In fact, Deresiewicz argues that his students or sheep cannot think for themselves. This idea cannot be more true than at my own New Trier High School. High level students go above and beyond what is required of them. But, they feel that this is enough. Frankly, one can exceed a requirement and still not be able to think critically and objectively. Writing two times the page length for Junior Theme does not guarantee an "A". All of these misconstrued notions have defined the water in which I swim everyday.