By Noah Bergam ’21

Upon re-entering Pingry during this back-to-school season, I noticed that, in my discussion-based classes, I tend to find myself fighting total classroom silence. That’s not to say I am the only one participating – there are plenty of other students who add to the discussion without qualms. But there are also so many students who rarely, if ever, speak up. Some are shy outside the classroom. Some are pretty talkative once you get to know them. Some work hard, some hardly work, some are outright geniuses.

This lack of participation did not totally surprise me, but it struck me as rather impractical. I understood, however, after discussing it with some friends, that the reasoning behind staying silent was simple: why risk failure and judgement from others? I could certainly grasp the fear; after two failed campaigns for class president and plenty of slip-ups in class of which I am not particularly proud, I’ve had some taste of public failure. Those experiences were not pleasant in the moments immediately following but in the long run, I feel they have helped me improve in various ways and ultimately build up my confidence.

So, I believe that a fear of failure that hinders class participation – and participation in general – is one that can and should be conquered. Failure is what matures us. We learn what we do wrong and we chase the correct answer or thought process that may prepare ourselves for future slip-ups. This cycle of failure can lead to success inside and outside the classroom, an enlightening and motivating process once fully set in motion.

The problem that many face is how to begin the cycle: how do you put yourself out there and risk judgement? This can be difficult at our school, where we are constantly pressured to fit the model of the elite Pingry student. I’m referring to the all-star scholars, athletes, and artists we see all around us – the kids who are called ‘exceptional’, who win awards in Hauser auditorium, and wield an almost legendary status for us, even if they have already graduated from Pingry. These figures both inspire and intimidate us; they set a precedent of excellence that can drive us to try harder but can also scare us away from following in their footsteps.

In order to beat the pressure present in the classroom and beyond, one must accept failure as a prerequisite for greater success. These inspirational student figures had to experience failure to get the results they desired. If they did everything right every time, there would be no progress.

We have a limited time in the small Pingry community. High school makes up a practically insignificant portion of our lives. So, why not speak up while we’re here? Why not learn and make the most of this experience while it is still in our fingertips? The classroom is the best place to start.