I still remember my first day of high school like it was yesterday. Nervous smiles, the group of friends I always traveled around with, the scramble to figure out my lunch spot for the next four years, but most importantly, my first introduction to the school motto: “Achieve the Honorable.” For the 55 minutes that comprised my first freshman English class, we tried to make sense of those three words. I left the room with my head spinning, thinking that I would never be able to understand, let alone survive high school.
Flash forward almost four years and I can say that I have survived high school, yet I cannot confidently say that I understand it. For the last four years the motto has been subtly inserted into syllabuses, inside the library and under the website logo. However, when I try to comprehend the words, I find myself with the same headache I had freshman year. I could analyze the words “Achieve” and “Honorable” and create an in depth essay, include other textual evidence and connect it to the real world (I’ll leave that to my English class), and I would still come to this simple conclusion—we need to revise our motto.
Situated under the “Academic Integrity Policy” section of our student handbook, our motto at times seems to be more of a warning not to cheat than a real binding symbol. The first problem with our motto is that it really only applies to academics. Of course these past four years have been filled with countless hours of homework, tests and work, but the influence of PHS extends way beyond the realm of academia. At this school, I’ve screamed my head off at football games, been moved to tears watching plays, learned to appreciate a nice crispy apple and experienced other incredible moments that go way beyond the classroom.
I understand that mottos connect people together. Many universities, organizations and countries have long-standing mottos that are reminders of tradition and certain values. I researched schools in our area and found that all these educational institutions had mission statements, some even had mottos. However, what separates PHS from these schools is that the other schools’ mottos focus on the school entity as a whole, rather than singling out certain students.
“Achieve the Honorable” puts the focus and the responsibility on the students. In our community, where we already struggle with the pressure to be the best and do the most, an explicit call to “Achieve” only perpetuates a stressful, goal focused environment. In addition, there is no “we,” no “PHS strives,” no “Together we can.” There is no feeling of togetherness, no feeling of community and no feeling that we are a school built on collaboration of students, teachers and administrators, all sentiments that I know our school is trying to foster.
The other problem with our motto is the ambiguous idea of honor, and being honorable. In light of recent situations at PHS, along with past occurrences that have made certain members of our community feel unsafe, we need to reevaluate how “honor” has perpetuated a culture based on outward appearance and social standings. “Honorable” pressures us to strive for a certain standard, all based on external actions and achievements. High school is not about honor. High school is about growing as young adults and learning how we can impact the world positively. High school is about making mistakes, but learning from them. High school is about developing respect, appreciation and consideration for the people around us.
If I can leave PHS with anything, I hope it’s that this piece starts a conversation. Ultimately, if we want to truly change our school climate, it begins with the words that guide us.