Before the Linsanity ...

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Jeremy Lin was a stressed out student at Paly:

Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin opened up to his fans in a long and heartfelt Facebook post last week that addressed his experiences dealing with professional and academic pressure, as well as suicides in his high school. Lin wrote that his reflections were prompted by the cover of this month’s Atlantic magazine, “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” a report of how expectations on high school students in the tech mecca could drive them to the brink of a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — depression.

Lin as a freshman sat next to a classmate who committed suicide, as did one of his friends the following year. From his Facebook post:

The pressure to succeed in high school is all too familiar to me. I distinctly remember being a freshman in high school, overwhelmed by the belief that my GPA over the next four years would make or break my life. My daily thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery.

That passage reminds me of one of the emails still sitting in our inbox, from a current senior at a high school “situated in the district of St. Louis with the highest median annual income.”

She continues:

Anything less than perfect is inexcusable. And of course it’s overwhelming. I starting seeing a therapist my sophomore year.

It’s a common joke among my friends about how often we cry. (Though we almost certainly never let the others see.) It feels that a single mistake can end one’s future. I took a lit class sophomore year, and the teacher taught a lesson on cause and effect. She wrote this down: “Cause: You don’t study for your math test. Effect: ? ”

We were to fill in the effect. Most of the students filled out standard answers (You fail the test, your parents get mad, you get detention) but my friends and I, the high-achieving AP students plunked into a required course, differed. Almost uniformly, we wrote, “You fail the test. You get a poor grade in the class. Your GPA lowers. You don't get into college. You work minimum wage the rest of your life.”

This twisted script of cause and effect is rote to us, innate, and unquestionable. A single mistake ruins your life. Academia is horrifically high-stakes to us, and the pressure is awful.

I’m in five AP classes. I’m also on the speech and debate team, and National Honor Society, and president of the school’s a capella club. I love to write, so this November I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I landed a main role in the spring musical. I sleep less than six hours a night.

I’m not trying to complain, but merely attempting to give context for this: my GPA is a 3.9. I consider this a failure because it is not a 4.0. And even though it’s perfectly understandable because I do take on a lot, it’s still a failure, because, theoretically, getting a 4.0 would have been possible. A friend of mine is president of the speech and debate team, vice president of our National Honor Society, president of our black students coalition, and in 5 AP classes as well. She has a perfect 4.0. Why shouldn't I?

Despite my course load and extracurriculars, I’m actually in a very good place, mentally. I’ve only cried twice this semester, and I feel tentatively optimistic about semester finals. But acceptance decisions for Early Action and Early Decision college applications come out next week and the one after. And my friend—the president of the debate team with a 4.0—broke down in tears last week because she has a B in AP Chemistry. So the stress never really ends.

Thanks to Hanna for writing this article. I haven’t seen many like it. (I did, however, watch the documentary Race to Nowhere last week, which focused similarly.) I hope that in the future, things will change.