In Greek mythology, Achilles is depicted as the peerless hero of the Trojan War. Countless legends recount his apparent invincibility; having been dipped into the river Styx as an infant by his mother, Achilles is effectively immortal on all parts of his body save his heel. Given the nature of his existence, Achilles could have easily chosen to live forever, immune to the wear and tear of the universe. Instead, he chooses a life of glory and combat. Though he dies from an arrow to the heel at the hands of Paris of Troy, Achilles becomes immortal once more, living forever through the glory of his legacy rather than the eternal life granted by his physical perfection.
Today, countless Lawrentians strive for the same level of achievement as the Greek hero. In place of battlefields and victory in combat, students aim for excellence on the field, the stage, or the Harkness table. Of course, students are not invincible Greek heroes, and inevitably, they grow weary. As the years pass by and courseloads become more rigorous, it's hard to find a student who hasn't worked to the point of exhaustion during the time they spend in the Lawrenceville pressure cooker. Stress, however, is also the natural consequence of striving for greatness. Though Lawrenceville undoubtedly upholds a rigorous assortment of classes, the expectations we students set for ourselves result in just as many sleepless nights; Lawrenceville's collective emphasis on success and achievement has created a culture that deemphasizes the value of rest.
Make no mistake; work at Lawrenceville is intense and cumulative. As major assignments pile up, students often find themselves playing a constant game of catchup. In the process, what little free time students have gets used to complete major assignments, creating a vicious cycle of work. Interscholastic commitments, rigorous clubs, and time-consuming publications also play a large role in dramatically increasing student workloads. Sleep deprivation isn't isolated to Lawrenceville, either. According to a 2022 survey conducted on several students across boarding schools in America, students only get an average of five to seven hours of sleep a night, a far cry from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendation of at least nine.
Still, in response to these issues, Lawrenceville continues to implement a variety of initiatives to ensure that students get the rest they need. Between late Wednesdays, free periods, Pace and Quality of Life days, Head of School days, long weekends, no-homework weekends, and even reduced Saturday classes, Lawrenceville takes care to make opportunities for students to attain rest.
The problem with these initiatives, however, lies in that none of them necessarily address the cultural causes behind the loss of rest. Instead, with its Form awards, House cups, and Cum Laude rolls, Lawrenceville places success on a pedestal. Emphasizing accolades creates a zero-sum game, like gladiatorial combat; every opportunity forgone in exchange for rest is an opportunity taken by a peer, one that might even lead to awards and transcript materials. Though nothing prevents us from reducing our course loads, giving up varsity sports, or leaving prestigious clubs on the surface, the cost of not striving for excellence ends up appearing far greater than the loss of a few hours of sleep. Like Greek warriors pushing for success in battle, students end up not getting the rest they need, simply because they refuse to.
It goes without saying that this sort of lifestyle is unsustainable. Rest is critical to the development of teenage minds and bodies; Lawrenceville students cannot truly become their best selves if they sacrifice their well-being in exchange for success. Students should also note the dangers of sleep deprivation, which can increase the risk of dementia, heart disease, and diabetes. Though Achilles sought immortality in glory, he ironically did so at the cost of his own life; that the "Achilles heel," an idiomatic symbol of one's dooming weakness, has endured longer than the Greek hero's exploits speaks volumes. Though the student body might idealize success, students can only truly achieve excellence once their basic needs are met.
Our basic need for sleep notwithstanding, is competition what we as a student body wish to strive for during our time at Lawrenceville? Do we wish to diminish every opportunity for camaraderie with our fellow students, and every opportunity for growth in the face of failure, in favor of fighting for some arbitrary goal of greatness? Though Achilles is praised for his strength and glory as a warrior, I figure the moments he truly cherished were those spent with Patroclus; after all, what use was his strength as a warrior without anyone to fight for? We as a student body thrive in the company and support of one another. In pursuing academics we should not aim to outcompete peers and should instead strive to do our best while uplifting others in the process. To properly allow the student body to get the rest it needs, Lawrenceville must also begin addressing its culture of do-or-die student competition. Life isn't a Greek tragedy; one person's victory need not be another person's loss.