My Childhood

This may sound like a sad story—it’s not.  These are the things that built me into the person I am today. I am extremely grateful for my childhood and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“Protect The Tradition”

“Excellence”

“Home of the Dragons”

“Students succeed because of high expectations”

I grew up in Southlake, Texas. It’s a small suburban town outside of Dallas, but unlike most suburban towns we have our own wikipedia page (and yes, it is surprisingly comprehensive). Southlake is more than a town with a wikipedia page. Southlake is a bubble. A bubble of wealth, success, traditions, competition, and above all excellence.

The story starts in Kindergarten. From day one, you are a Dragon—a Carroll Dragon. Unity is insanely important to the Southlake culture; one city, one school, one community. We are the Southlake Carroll Dragons.  We are champions—in everything.  Anything less than excellence is unacceptable.

Walk into any school in the district and you will be overwhelmed with the amount of trophies, commendations, and awards that decorate the building. We win at everything at all levels from Kindergarten to High School.

I grew up in what people will probably remember as the golden age of Carroll Dragon football. Under the direction of Todd Dodge, the high school football team went 79-1 winning 4 state championships during the first 5 years as a Class 5A high school. The culture that this type of success creates is impossible to describe. The entire city would show up to the Friday night football games. If the opponent scored even a single touchdown it was a disappointment, a loss was inconceivable. The Carroll Dragons were the National Champions in high school football 2004, 2005, and 2006. All of this from a small town in the suburbs of Dallas.

You might imagine that we were a simple athletics program with no academics—but that isn’t true. Southlake Carroll academics are known being the largest school district in the state of Texas to hold the highest ranking, “Exemplary.”

How can a single school district be both the best in education and the best in athletics?  It shouldn’t be possible, but the Southlake culture created this reality.

This success created a culture of superiority. Walking down the halls, you can feel the pressure; people know they are better than everybody else in the world. The problem is that everybody in the school feels this way. It is a nasty environment to grow up in.

My GPA was reported with 3 decimal points and the system stored the value to seemingly infinite precision.  We were graded on a 100 point scale. Every single homework assignment mattered. A single point miscalculated would cost you a place in the class rankings. My class of students, the class of 2014 was probably the most competitive class to go through the Southlake Carroll school systems.  We broke district records on standardized testing scores and the number of students who achieved the highest honors at graduation.  People were ruthlessly competitive on all assignments. We would help our friends, but just enough so they beat the other people, not enough for them to challenge our ranking.

It was absolutely merciless. The schedule to maintain this level of achievement was almost unbearable and broke me during my Junior year of high school. I was in multiple leadership positions for the Robotics club with practices starting at 6:30am. I was involved in Drumline with practices until 7:00 or 8:00pm. I was Captain of the Computer Science team with weekly competitions on Saturdays. I was studying for the PSAT (I was taking at least 2 sections of a PSAT every night). I was enrolled in 4 AP classes, and I was expected to maintain perfect scores on all homework assignments, quizzes and tests in all of my classes. Anything less than 100% correct would risk dropping a place in the class rankings. Dropping a place was unacceptable.

There is only so much time in the day. I was dying. Then I broke.

One day I just started crying.  I couldn’t keep up with the demands of my schedule. Ultimately I dropped marching band, cutback my commitments to the Robotics Team.  I focused my energy on the PSAT and the Computer Science Team. I switched from breadth of activities to a narrow focus. With focus came  unimaginable levels of success.

But the Southlake culture is not about success, it is about excellence. Succeeding is not excellence. Excellence is doing everything to perfection. So Senior year I went up to 7 AP courses plus a Software Engineering Internship where I worked 15 hours per week. I also increased my commitment to the Computer Science program. I was determined to carry the team to the first State Championship appearance in the UIL Computer Science competition. Nothing was going to stop me.

My goal was for our team to beat the region rivals (Paschal High School) and advance to the State Championships. My teacher was extremely supportive and never questioned my resolve, but I could tell she didn’t think it was possible.  I didn’t care if it was possible, I was going to make it happen.

I worked my butt off to teach my peers enough so that they could compete at the highest level. We did. We crushed the region rivals and advanced to the State Championships and we placed third (losing out on a second place finish by less than 1%).

The narcissist in my says that we would have won at the state championship if I had a team of clones of myself, but the truth is my teammates did as well as could be expected and if there is any blame to go around it should be targeted at me.

This was the culture I grew up in. A culture of insane expectations where the pressure to succeed destroyed so many of my peers. Reflecting on my experiences, I was utterly miserable, but I wouldn’t trade any of it.  Southlake didn’t make me perfect; I have many flaws. But Southlake made me into who I am today and the habits instilled in me from my childhood have allowed me to succeed at Carnegie Mellon University.

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