We’re not all winners

Alexandra Chertok, Executive Opinions Editor

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Participation trophy culture should go in a box along with old medals and trophies to collect dust in the back of the closet.
Photo by Alexandra Chertok

My fingers paused above the keyboard as I filled out the section for awards earned in extracurricular activities on a college application. I considered putting that by the end of high school, I will earn the 12-Season Athlete Award. However, as I thought about it more, I realized it isn’t so much an award as it is a participation trophy, much like the ones I thought I’d left back in elementary school.

The first medal I received, a shiny gold-colored plastic token for participation in a ballet recital, made me feel special. Then there were medals for showing up at skating competitions regardless of performance, medals for reading a certain amount of books at school, medals for participating in my school’s geography bee. It didn’t take much time for seven-year-old me to realize these medals held little value, that each one was just another piece of plastic with a different logo on it destined to collect dust in my closet.

Maybe these trophies seemed like harmless fun at the time, but the effect

s of participation trophy culture follow us long past little league baseball games and elementary school spelling contests.

Our generation has been raised to expect a trophy just for showing up at a game or completing an assignment. We go in to talk to teachers saying we deserve a better grade on a paper because we tried hard and complain about how we would have won a game if something hadn’t gone wrong.

But the reality is that we’re not all winners.

Many of us expect that we will get into a certain college or get a certain grade because we worked hard and we deserve it. But that’s not how life works. There can only be one winner of a game, a certain amount of perfect scores and a small amount of students accepted into certain colleges.

At our school, participation trophy culture is still perpetuated in academics and athletics. Recipients of the 12-Season Athlete Award get their names engraved on a plaque outside the fitness center and have a special spread in the yearbook, whether they set a school record or joined a sport at the last minute to get the award. In some classes, extra credit is handed out like candy on Halloween to boost everyone’s grades because students — and parents — feel like they deserve it.

It might seem nice now, but it’s only hurting us in the future.

In the real world, if the business you put a lot of work into fails, you’re not going to make money just because you tried. If you can’t perform what needs to be done for your job, you’ll be fired even if you tried your very best.

That’s not to say showing up and working hard should never be recognized at the high school level. Sometimes that rounded 89.5 percent really has been earned. But we need to acknowledge that sometimes when we work hard, we won’t succeed.

And that’s okay. We can’t all be winners.

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