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Lakeridge senior Evan Melendez on awards, accolades and the pursuit of happiness

The older I grow, the more people around me are vying for recognition or prestige. It dominates our path in society, so it becomes natural to showcase our achievements to others, competing and pushing to be the most successful. COURTESY PHOTO: EVAN MELENDEZ - Melendez

In one sense, this isn't a bad thing--achievement and recognition are inherent to a functioning society, and necessary for growth. This tangible incentive is, for better or worse, a driving factor of individual accomplishment. However, the race for achievement turns into a slippery slope of artifice if left unchecked.

The trap we fall into is valuing recognition itself, rather than the accomplishment it represents. Achievements are hollowed out to the point where fakeness rules our lives and lasting joy or satisfaction becomes threatened. The most obvious example that I experience is the college application process. Throughout high school, students are pushed to take on rigorous coursework and extracurriculars to make themselves appealing to colleges. The intent is noble; challenging students to be the best that they can be, building endurance and a good work ethic. However, with growing pressure and competition, students take on work in order to check off boxes, doing whatever we can to make ourselves look better than the next applicant. We get so invested in the value of awards that everything else becomes only a means of reaching them. We run for positions for the title they give, rather than belief in the program. This defeats the whole point of recognition. Colleges want to know what makes us individual — instead we give them a pile of awards that lack substance.

By pursuing hollow goals, the angst in our student body creates an environment of moral ambiguity. But it doesn't have to be this way. We must reject embellishing ourselves to the point of insincerity and the harmful culture of achievement for its own sake. By being yourself, you can set a reasonable standard of achievement, and present a genuine person to the world. This not only cuts back on the stress of committing to a million activities to compete against others, but removes the insincerity of presenting the "perfect student" that colleges look for. Through standing up and truly believing in something, rather than garnering a multitude of awards, true value can be realized.

I believe that to live a fulfilling and accomplished life, we must reprioritize ourselves in a way that places less value on titles and awards, and more value on pursuing our passions. In a society dominated by the power of prestige, it's hard to focus in and be true to ourselves, for fear of falling behind the rest. But I truly believe that the person who isn't afraid to chase their dreams, no matter the recognition, can make this world a better place. By checking our need for accomplishment with a sincere belief in our actions, any awards or accolades that follow is not just earned, but meaningful.

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