Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 12, 2024

Ivy Leagues were once known for their brick walls, prestigious alumni, low-acceptance rates, and now, unfortunately, they are becoming known for student suicides. Suicides such as Madison Holleran from the University of Pennsylvania were especially shocking once it came to light that she made the horrible decision after receiving “bad grades.” Even on our campus there are individuals who have felt the need to take their own life, such as Yangkai Li, and to whose friends and family I offer my condolences. Now, I will not claim to know exactly what was on these individuals’ minds that could lead them to leave us so soon, but it has to be asked: Why are high-achieving students taking their lives when they have everything to live for?

To see the gravity of the situation, there are some facts that should be more well-known. There has been a rise in suicide rates for the 18-25 age group; since 1950, the suicide rate of these teens and young adults has tripled. This is peculiar because isn’t the transition between being a child and adulthood supposed to be exhilarating? Maybe this is when you have sex for the first time, have that first romance, drive a car and go to a party where alcohol is provided by someone’s older brother. These years are supposed to be your firsts — so why are people making that horrible decision to cut their lives short?

Stress may be the reason. Between ages 15 and 24 is when you’re deciding your future: You’re applying to a school that largely informs your professional career, choosing a major and possibly even dealing with student loans, taxes and other finances. When growing up, we see college as the place where we establish our independence and have fun. But we forget this is also a place of extreme pressure, which is why, unfortunately, it makes sense that 1,100 suicides occur at colleges each year. 

Should we students blame ourselves? Are we just not strong enough to handle the pressures of our environment? Expectations are extremely high in college nowadays, especially when you are at a university like Hopkins. Many of us puff out our chests with pride when we are accepted to these schools with notoriously low acceptance rates, but when we get here, many of us are immediately humbled by our first D’s and F’s. I can only speak of my own experiences at Hopkins, but I must admit, it’s a bit torturous at times. For example, when I was in Materials Chemistry and Physics II, I got 40s and 50s on the midterms and went into finals with failing grades. I was stressed, my heart pounded like a jackrabbit whenever I was taking tests, I couldn’t sleep and I lived in the library. There were tears and meetings with the professor. As a student, classes are your life, and to be so dependent on two or three tests for your grade can make your hair go white with stress. I kept struggling and got less than half of the material correct on the final. But somehow I got A’s and B’s in the classes.

Of course I cried tears of joy and enjoyed my break afterwards. But why did I have to stress and suffer the whole semester and be held in such suspense? It was overwhelming to take that stress; it physically taxed me. I was sick often and would sleep four hours during the week and then sleep 12 hours a night on the weekends. This doesn’t include participating in research and clubs. And who is to say what my mental state was by that point in time?

During last year’s SOHOP engineering panel, a professor gripped the mic and said some of the words that were most memorable to me as a member of the prospective future class of the Whiting School of Engineering. Taking out a large chalkboard from backstage he wrote in large block letters, “GOOD GRADES + DEGREE + JOB ≠ HAPPINESS.” Then he simply shrugged and said: “Coming here isn’t going to make you happy.”

So why are most of us here if not for happiness? I mean, shouldn’t happiness be the ultimate goal of our lives? It is a fundamental question that is addressed in several religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. It was a question that made us turn and ask our parents why they work so hard and long at the office. Asking fellow classmates, many of them will say that their aspirations are to make money, be secure or work in some lab, law firm or hospital.

Therefore, if we are all here, pursuing our goals, why do classmates still decide to take their own lives?

Perhaps it is the attitude with which we approach depression. I believe many of us look at depression to be a weakness or excuse. We look at our surroundings with air conditioning, running water and toilets and think how blessed and lucky we are. Then look at it with the mentality of an Ivy League student, to be one of the lucky few to make it into these top colleges. Therefore, when we feel depressed and are not doing well in our classes, we feel ashamed. Because it is not as if we are starving, running from war or afraid for our lives — we just live in fear for the next test. We begin to tell ourselves we do not have a right to feel this way.

This shame has lead students to silence, and the pressure continues to build until they feel that the only way to escape is through death.

Hopkins is just part of a system, and we need to approach it differently. Hopkins will get you where you want to be or it may not, but you are here, and you can only do your best. Do not put such value in your GPA and grades.

GPA is only a small portion of who you are. It is more interesting to hear about how someone went backpacking across Asia than about how they got a 4.0 in college. People will look for graduates who faced adversity and struggled but didn’t quit and did the best of what they could with the situation. Don’t see your grades as the only important things in college. It’s your friends and what you are like outside of class in the limited time you have here.

You have to remember that you have to do little things to keep yourself going; don’t isolate yourself, and maybe, instead of studying for a few hours, go eat with friends. Don’t let college make you forget the rest of your life. You may be young and fresh but someday you won’t be. So live now.

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