Matthew, High School Student, CA

Matthew is a high school student at Palo Alto High School (PALY) in California. He was interviewed by a peer & one of our student Catalysts, Jeanette, for our ongoing, collective visioning process with PALY in Spring 2017. Check out other #SchoolSpotlight interviews from our #PeopleofPALY project!

Matthew is a high school student at Palo Alto High School (PALY) in California. He was interviewed by a peer & one of our student Catalysts, Jeanette, for our ongoing, collective visioning process with PALY in Spring 2017. Check out other #SchoolSpotlight interviews from our #PeopleofPALY project!

"A good life would be having people that support me and being able to financially support myself, and being happy - even though that’s not exactly always something that you can be because of whatever problems that are going on in life."

What do you think is the most important thing you’re learning in school?

Definitely, I understand that math and science play a big part in what a lot of people consider important, but for me personally I would say the things that I’m learning in my art class, just because I’m planning, not sure, but planning on going to an art institution, so what I’m learning in my art classes, to me, have the biggest impact on my time here. But I do think that English has had quite a big impact on me too because of having to write college essays. I’m very happy that the things that my teachers taught me throughout my four years here, I’m very happy that I learned those because it’s made writing college essays a lot easier, even though they were different styles. And I’m not saying that I think math and science are unimportant, if anything, it’s the most important subject, and considered to be the most important subject especially here at Paly, and probably also at Gunn. And I have learned things in both of those subjects, I just tend to struggle more with those, and because of that, maybe I don’t see what I learn there as important as what I’m learning in art because I’m planning on that being my future versus math and science not so much. So basically I’m saying it’s still important but, in my mind, other subjects take priority.

So you think art is more important for you personally, but in general math and science…

In general, it seems, especially, with “advances in technology,” it seems like math and science contribute far more to that. And that’s not to say that other subjects don’t contribute much either to society, but I guess in media you see, “Oh, scientists have found this and that and this and that.” And math is heavily applied to those kinds of “real world problems” or whatever.

So, what makes a good life?

I guess I have my ideal life that I would live.  I mean obviously that depends on everyone and what you want to have in your own life. So, to answer that question for myself, I guess a good life would be having people that support me and being able to financially support myself, and being happy - even though that’s not exactly always something that you can be because of whatever problems that are going on in life. So I guess being able to support myself, having others to support me, and, being happy.

How should school support getting a “good life"?

In a lot of ways school does support you because I mean it’s guiding you through this mess called education and it’s organizing, but at the same time, it also makes it harder maybe because of class requirements that, maybe you have to take certain classes or you already know something in and you find it a waste of your time and you can't take a class that teaches you something new, or sorry I’m going off, the question, it’s like to support. But I’m saying that, in my experience, I felt equally that it has supported me, and it hasn’t supported me. So it has supported me because it’s helping me get required knowledge down, like general education for college, and it’s preparing me, in terms of, foundation knowledge for life. But it hasn’t helped me because, it shifts focus, it kind of forces me to focus on other things like math and science, versus what I was talking about earlier. 

I’d like to focus the majority of my time in art, but I can’t because math and science, I’m really bad at those subjects so I really have to pay attention to those to do well in those classes. And sometimes school makes it hard because there’s so many other extra things that they’re telling you, which that’s also to help you such as, “oh you should join clubs, you should do this, here we’ll help you with your college app.” And as much as that can help, it can also be very confusing because maybe school doesn’t give you all the information, for whatever reason, whether it's good or bad, and you don’t know sometimes what you’re doing. Especially with the college application process, it was just like, to me I felt like their message was basically, “trust us, we’re giving you the certain parts, we’re telling you that these certain parts are going to be our job, so just trust that we’ll do it,” and it’s just kind of hard because I’ve seen the administration make so many mistakes that it’s like, I have a hard time believing that you’ll follow through, even though I know that you have all these students take care of, how do I know you’ll get to every single one of us.

Do you think people, parents, the community, teachers, students, agree with your “what makes a good life”?

"Definitely not. For sure, there’s no way everyone has the same “good life” ideals. Everyone has a different opinion--obviously my parents, weren’t keen on me wanting to do art, but there are definitely some of my friends whose parents have taken it far worse, so they support me." 

So I guess their ideal life--especially my mother, her goals for me, that sounds kind of weird, but what she wants for me is to be happy and to and to be able to support myself versus my dad wants me to do. I don’t know - well he isn’t forcing me or anything , he would just like that I can make some kind of well-known contribution to the furthering of our society, though he gave up on that pretty quickly. I guess with my friends, obviously we all have different things and we all respect each other's life wishes, that sounds weird. I guess a better phrase would be long term goals.

Wait so, how do you think Paly could support you more, or how could it change to support you in getting your ideal life? You said you wanted a good support system, and to be happy, do you think Paly is really helping you in that aspect?

Not really at all. And obviously I’m not going to blame the school, because they’re doing a decent job. They’re definitely not a bad school, it’s just that like the environment here could be a little--and I’m not saying that like, “oh my god we have it so hard.” I hear other students say that and as much as it is true that we have it hard, it could be so much worse and there are other schools where the academic environment is far worse, and I’m just saying that that kind of academic environment where students kind of indirectly pressure each other does exist here to some extent, and I think if the school could somehow get rid of that, that would be nice. 

Of course that’s very hard to get rid of, that’s near impossible to me, but it does cause some problems, not just with me. I know other students and other friends are affected by it. I think also shifting away the focus on certain subjects, it’s definitely math and science here, as it is in many other school districts as well, I’m sure, but sometimes it does feel like other subjects are under-supported. 

"I feel like a lot of people that I talk to--because now we’re all going to college so a lot of people are like, “oh where are you going, what are you thinking of doing? What are you planning on majoring in?” Whenever I say “art, art school,” maybe it’s just me being self conscious, but they tend to kind of say “oh that’s great,” and then kind of peter off into this weird kind of expression where it’s kind of like, “oh, that’s kind of sad that he feels like that’s going to support him,” or something." 

I have felt like a lot of people that on the outside are like, “that’s really good, that’s really cool, help advance art and society.” But then in their minds maybe they’re thinking like, “oh, this guy is not going down a good path.” Obviously I’m not going to name any particular people, but there are several outstanding people that have made me feel pretty bad about wanting to do art, myself included; I’m quite harsh on myself.

I hate that I feel like the only thing I’m good at is art, but I’ve had a lot of time to accept that, and I’m ready to move on and pass the whole “trying to find something else to do,” and just see how things turn out. And if things don’t turn out the way I want, then I’ll just have to find another solution or something else to study that I like.

If you could send out one overall message from this interview, what would it be?

As much as I wanna say don’t stress and stay relaxed, that’s not gonna happen. So I would say, accept that stress and accept that stress and accept the high anxiety about getting into colleges and whatever, and the stress about doing well in class. It’s gonna happen. It’s gonna happen, but maybe anticipate it and prepare yourself for how it’s gonna happen and when and where and all that. And try not to worry too much--it’s good to worry, it’s very healthy to worry, but if you do too much of it, then it kind of just sucks you in, and it’s hard to get out of.