Imperfections Can Teach Us

The heartbreaking, somewhat controversial NCS loss in the men’s water polo championship game against Acalanes marked a central landmark in the recent history of Miramonte water polo. For the first time in six years, the water polo team lost the NCS championship, ending a remarkable, five-year dynasty. This loss seems bitter as well as somewhat unexpected. The perceived shock over the water polo outcome sheds light on the expectations our community sets for the performances of students. If anything, this defeat reminds our school of basic human imperfections guaranteed to arise, even in a high-achieving community like Orinda.

With rising Academic Performance Index (API) scores and higher college attendance and acceptance rates, the Miramonte standard, defined by high-expectations for academic and athletic success, is rising, much to the dismay of our students. For example, during the 2008-2009 school year, Miramonte’s API score (measured on a scale of 1-1000) was 858. This index measures our academic performance and growth based on a variety of academic calculations. The following year, that number increased to a score of 930.

By establishing an ever improving standard of excellence as the norm, we as community and a school place intense pressure on our students to earn the top grades and scores no matter how unreachable they may be. While high expectations encourage the average Miramonte student or athlete to reach his or her maximum potential, they conversely establish a constant need for perfection by parents, our school and community. In the current senior class, the median unweighted GPA is 3.33; the highest weighted GPA is 4.50.

An increasingly high demand for top grades, high test scores and championships in sports, sparks growing competition between students, which in turn, can fuel feelings of inadequacy. Feelings of academic or athletic incompetence among Miramonte students lead to cheating to reach the prestigious “Miramonte standard.” In the past two years, the pervasive issue of academic dishonesty has been targeted by the Miramonte administration after implementing strict punishments under the school’s academic honesty system.

“Being at Miramonte the past four years, I’ve noticed a giant disparity in the way the Miramonte administration deals with students,” said an anonymous senior student. “First, the administration, as well as the stereotypical Orinda parent, holds ridiculous standards by expecting unrealistic academic performances. Then, the administration is baffled when they notice a large percentage of students who cheat in order to reach that established expectation. Apparently, no one seems to understand that the high standards are the exact reasons why students cheat in the first place; it’s the reason why I’ve cheated at Miramonte in the past.”

If our community attempts to realize and appreciate the imperfections that we as basic humans are guaranteed to have, just like in the case of the water polo loss, the pressure for students to cheat will subside. By embracing our imperfections, students, in response, will learn comfortably, without the weight of high expectations placed on their shoulders. As a result, students then learn the importance of academic and personal integrity, thus thwarting cheating in particular.

Simply put, as the author Karen Nave wrote: “Sometimes we strive so hard for perfection that we forget that imperfection is happiness.”
The road to perfection, which at Miramonte is cemented by the rising API scores and increasing percentage of college acceptances, is met with the tendency to cheat in order to achieve the success our community demands. The drive for perfection creates an unspoken “if the ends justify the means” mentality that equally cripples integrity and character. We as a school and a community, need to acknowledge that imperfections are unavoidable, and when they are viewed positively, can effectively shape the way we determine success.

The Editorial Board voted 14-0 in favor