By Nava Levene-Harvey ’19

Senior year has begun for Pingry’s class of 2019. Somewhere on the horizon, college acceptances and rejections, mental breakdowns, and unimaginable stresses all await my classmates and me. Now, the many awards ceremonies I used to think of as only annoyances are essential. These awards have the possibility of being the “cherries on top” in college applications, and one in particular takes the cake over all of the others: Cum Laude.

Before the Fall Awards Assembly on Friday, September 21, I heard several people talking about the school deciding not to induct half of their Cum Laude selection in the fall, as done in previous years. At first, I participated in these conversations thinking it was merely speculation, but the assembly fully confirmed that fact for the whole school.

I believe that Pingry’s choice to postpone this induction to the spring has hurt student morale more than it has helped. The awards ceremonies reward people for their achievements from the year before, and Cum Laude is no different. Yes, there is the obvious fact that seniors inducted in the spring cannot put it on their college applications; however, this is not unique to the Cum Laude induction. All of the awards given during the spring award ceremony cannot be included on a senior’s college application. By changing the policy for Cum Laude and doing the full induction in the spring, Pingry increases stress for students by placing more emphasis on their performance than before.

For those who might oppose this argument, I offer this: if people are driven to be the best and strive to prove that to themselves and others, Cum Laude would be their opportunity. This type of incentive, to encourage students  to push themselves until they reach their goal in spite of all obstacles, might otherwise be admirable but in fact it runs the risk of making students’ mental health collateral damage during an already high-stress time. The school previously helped prevent this by inducting only half of the students in the fall, but now all students will undergo an elongated period of stress. .

The Cum Laude change does offer the possibility of opening up a dialogue about a larger issue. The choice, one that directly affects students, was made without the current students’ input. Ms. Chatterji has made it obvious that the Board of Trustees is beginning to try to make student voices more involved in their decisions, exemplified by the survey she mentioned during morning meeting regarding the new Head of school. Yet, the fact that the induction policy was changed without even making an announcement to the student body is problematic, being that Cum Laude is so important to the student body.

While this was a lapse in the school’s judgment, they have the chance to rectify this situation by developing a way to involve students in events that directly affect them. I mentioned the survey from the Board of Trustees earlier because actions like that are a start. I want to make it clear that I do not think that every decision the administration makes needs student input. However, there are going to be topics that directly affect students, topics that students are more inclined to give their opinions about, and those must be taken into account. As students at this school, we deserve a say in issues that directly affect our experiences.

With improved methods of making decisions directly involving students, the probabilities of something like this happening again will decrease. The Cum Laude choice should reveal how choices made on their own can negatively impact the community. Going forward, the choice should show the Board of Trustees that it needs to convey a clearer message to students that their voices matter. Surveys, chances to talk at length in person, and even emails could be a start.