The problem with our theme selection process

    Spirit Week at Palo Alto High School certainly brings out a plenty of passion and enthusiasm in many of its stress-ridden students. Whether it is sacrificing their voices to scream cheers at lunchtime rallies, spending countless hours in the auto shop perfecting their floats, or waking up early every morning to make sure their outfit and face paint will secure their grade that day’s best-dressed points, students with a vast variety of interests and talents all come together during this one week of the school year and unite under one common goal: to prove their class is superior.

    The motto of spirit week is always to “go all out,” but is there such a thing as going too far? This weekend’s eruption on the Paly class of 2018 Facebook page surely proves so.  

    The current junior class was filled with anticipation for this upcoming spirit week, following a narrow, yet disappointing, third place loss in 2015. Despite the final placement, the class of 2018 gave an outstanding performance given their underclassman status, and look back on it positively.

    The class of 2018 shows off their float at the final rally of spirit week 2015. Photo by Cooper Lou.

    The class of 2018 shows off their float at the final rally of spirit week 2015. Photo by Cooper Lou.

    Many credited the theme, lifeguards, for the grade’s success.

    “Our theme played a huge role in our success last year,” junior Chloe Iglehart said. “Monday’s [theme day’s] dress up was very consistent and you could tell what our theme was by looking at anyone in our grade. It really unified our class and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the rallies, dance, and float building.”

    As one can imagine, when it came time to vote for the theme that could unify the grade yet again, many felt that it was a make or break decision for their chance at redemption during spirit week 2016. However, when the results of the final vote were posted, the outcome was anything but unification. Not only was the entire class divided, but many personally attacked other students, accused the Associate Student Body of rigging the vote, and put the success of the class on the line by threatening to withdraw their participate. Supporters of the selected theme, 70s, were quick to reply with equally irrational responses. Within minutes, the class Facebook page exploded into chaos, intense battles in the comment sections, passive aggressive posts, and innumerable notifications piling up on the lock screens of the junior class. In the end, ASB junior officers succumbed to the pressure and held a re-vote, which resulted in a change in the final theme from disco to boxing.

    The results of the original vote were 43% disco, 34% boxing, and 23% rockstars, according to Junior Class Vice President Marissa Ludwig. While no theme won by a landslide, it was not particularly close either. Issues were raised over how ASB officers publicized the votes, despite being announced on Facebook, Instagram, and Schoology, as well as in each theme meeting.

    The actions taken by many students on both sides of the argument were shameful, myself included. It was unfortunate to watch how something so positive as a passion for spirit week could turn so ugly so quickly.

    It is obvious that none of the participating students intended for this to get as out of hand as it did. Many acted out of character, driven only by their competitive spirit and their passion for the Paly tradition. However, no matter what the reason is, a vote is a vote. The majority selected a theme, and that is the theme it should have been.

    The purpose of a democratic vote is to find and follow the decision of the majority, whether an individual agrees with it or not. For an event that is as driven off of the idea of coming together as spirit week, threatening to ruin that unity over something as minute a theme is unfair to the remainder of the class. Especially when that remainder is the majority.

    This put ASB officers in a very tricky position; the vast number of those speaking out on Facebook demanded a re-vote, but a silent majority voted for the winning theme. Both sides had representatives who were frustrated, angry, and unafraid to speak their minds. I myself was conflicted on the solution. Should we undercut the significance of a democratic vote, to ensure that our grade be unified to maximize our shot at redemption? After sleeping on it, I feel the results from the original vote should have been upheld.

    Let me make this clear, I did not come to this conclusion based on the fact that the theme of my choice won the original vote. My decision is based on the fact that I feel, through a re-vote, a majority of our class lost their voices. Simply because one is not outspoken, or willing to battle it out on social media to prove their point of view, should not make their opinion any less valuable than those who are. By allowing a re-vote after a decision had already been made, it sends a message that is already far too commonly heard in today’s society: the loud and outgoing are valued over the quiet and shy. No matter the class officers’ intentions, sadly, this is the result. Spirit week is a week dominated by the outgoing extroverts, and one of the few ways that those who aren’t comfortable dressing up crazy and screaming their lungs out can get involved is by voting for what the focus of their week will be. Unfortunately, now that has been taken away too. 

    Class unity is by far the most important aspect of spirit week, and it is impossible for a class to be unified if the precedent is that half of them do not matter. In the end, we all understand that what makes a grade truly successful during spirit week is not a theme, but coming together. Fortunately, I have complete faith in the class of 2018. We are a class full of passion, energy, and competitive spirit. While we are off to a bumpy start, our divided grade will soon put our disagreements behind us and join together once again. But what will happen for years to come?

    This is certainly not the first time a class has experienced such disorder surrounding a spirit week theme. The current senior class suffered a similar fate during spirit week 2014, when a heated argument over their selected theme ensued, also resulting in a re-vote and a theme change. The class of 2018’s recent outburst may not simply have been due to a lack of maturity, but representative of a greater issue with Paly’s entire theme selection process.

    The class of 2017 dons soccer uniforms in honor of their theme "red card" during spirit week 2014. The theme was also a result of a re-vote after controversy over their first theme. Photo by Adele Bloch.

    The class of 2017 dons soccer uniforms in honor of their theme “red card” during spirit week 2014. The theme was also a result of a re-vote after controversy over their first theme. Photo by Adele Bloch.

    It is only fair that the spirit week theme be decided by the students through a democratic vote to, again, ensure that every student has an equal say in determining their theme. No one will be happy if administration is forced to make these critical decisions for us, but if this method of Athenian Democracy continues to fall, we may have no other choice.

    Our final option is to, rather than throw our entire system out, simply reform it. Currently, much of selection process is left up to class officers to organize, publicize, and enforce, independent of other grades. This freedom, while may seem more convenient, complicates the process and creates confusion and disorder among the students. Instead of allowing the continuation of this free-for-all in future years, we need to standardize our theme selection process for all grades. Each year, freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors all need hold individual in-person meetings to discuss ideas during the same week. This should be directly followed by an online poll, that will always take place the following day, and left up for 24 hours. This will minimize confusion about when the poll is up, and give everyone enough time to process the information and make a thoughtful decision. This poll can then be followed up by a final vote between only the top themes, and once the results are in, the decision is final.

    Results of the final vote also need to be publicized. This will squash ridiculous assumptions that the vote was somehow rigged, and allow students to get a sense of where the majority of their class truly lies, instead of being overpowered by the stronger voices.

    Finally, administration needs to be more vigilant about managing the reaction of students after the final vote. It is not okay to react in such a destructive, hostile way, especially surrounding something meant to strengthen class unity and cooperation. With more management by administration on this controversial issue, students will be forced to communicate in a much more appropriate and construction manner.

    These adjustments do not demand any major change. They simply require a little more thought than we are currently putting in. We need to stop this cycle before the classes of 2019 and 2020 suffer a similar fate. Spirit week is without a doubt one of the most positive high school experiences Paly has to offer, so let’s stop marring it will controversy and disharmony, and make it just that much better.

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