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EDITORIAL: The Opinion of The Oracle: Palo Alto’s reactions to suicide have negative impacts

Written by [Unsigned]

Last week, Gunn students expressed outrage at the reactions of certain community members to the recent suicides. Comments made by Paly students and parents on the Palo Alto Online forum and at the school board meeting last Tuesday criticized almost all aspects of Gunn, from its academic rigor to its supposed culture of stress. Others, including former teacher Marc Vincenti and Paly journalism advisor Esther Wojcicki, used the recent tragedy as a platform to push their agendas. Vincenti used the meeting to advocate for his “Save the 2,008” program, which does not reflect the opinion of most students. Wojcicki published a controversial article on Huffington Post blog, where she stated that the victim “took his life because he was stressed about life,” despite not contacting the victim’s family nor having substantial information. In this article she also inserted a letter, which implied that the victim’s family was to blame, from a Paly teen directed towards Palo Alto parents, These inappropriate responses have assumed blame, exploited a sensitive issue to push for various agendas and have divided a community that needs now more than ever to stand as one.

Immediate reactions to the suicide tried to heap blame on one specific subject. Wojcicki and the Paly student accused Palo Alto parents of being “tiger parents,” or parents overly focused on their children’s success to the point of exerting excessive pressure, and implied that depression develops because of such overbearing parents. Other people attempted to point fingers at Gunn itself for assigning too much homework and refusing to restrict the number of Advanced Placement (AP) classes students can take. However, trying to find one sole source of depression is nearly impossible; according to the Child Development Institute, no single cause can be identified because the development of depression arises from the amalgamation of multiple stresses. Only the victims will ever fully know and understand the situation and any other pretense is hurtful to the latest victim and his family. Wojcicki’s article upset many because it insinuated that the victim’s parents had not cared for their son’s well-being and instead forced unhappiness on him by inflicting unattainable demands. In reality, the family had issued a statement saying that the parents knew about the victim’s depression and that it had not been caused by academic pressure at Gunn. The majority of the community will never know why the suicide occurred, and we should accept that lack of knowledge. Making uninformed accusations does not lead toward recovery but rather opens more wounds by falsely indicting those considered “guilty.”

These pointed fingers and personal agendas have done nothing but tear our community apart during a period when students and community members were grieving. Instead of listening to the students, adults have pretended to know what we want and need. Tensions have risen between these adults and students. At a time when Palo Alto should be coming together to support students, controversial actions have only made us believe that we, as a town, aren’t all in this together. While many appreciate the sentiment for change and recognize its need, the way which people have tried to facilitate it ignores the students’ well-being. Instead of speculating, Palo Alto needs to realize the importance of caring for grieving students and assisting other students struggling with depression as well.

Although many suggestions to possible changes at Gunn have been raised, few actually reflect how students feel. While The Oracle is not composed of the whole student body, we believe that certain propositions may benefit Gunn. Many students have expressed that the difficulty of switching between lanes for classes causes students to feel like they must stay in more stressful lanes. Making it easier for students to drop down a lane if their current class is too difficult would be a relatively small change that could result in a large impact. Another solution, which other high schools like Harker School currently implement, is the elimination of senior finals. First semester finals fall on the same dates as deadlines for many college applications and second semester finals may cause unnecessary stress to students who should be preparing for post high school life. A final suggestion would be to move away from the more Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) focused view of success and intelligence and incorporate more advanced humanities courses into Gunn’s curriculum. Students who are not as STEM-oriented deserve the same diversity of classes to pursue their passions. We as a staff believe that these changes would be effective, and address many aspects of the situation, as opposed to placing the blame solely on one aspect of Gunn.

While all reactions to the recent events have had positive intentions, many failed to convey their arguments in a respectful manner. By making generalizations, expressing viewpoints that do not necessarily reflect those of the community and making conflict-inciting statements, select responses have instead created a rift within Palo Alto and may have caused unnecessary grief. During this difficult time, we must be mindful of those who are truly suffering and when discussing possible actions, keep in mind that the deaths of students is not a statistic or a spectacle to be gawked at. Hopefully in the future, those who wish to create change will do so in a civil way that is mindful of others and genuinely reflects the attitudes as well as the best wishes of the community.

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