As Prize Day approached, I was obviously thinking about the graduating senior class and the end of the year. But the words “Prize Day” also made me think (even more obviously) about prizes. While it’s true that prizes are not the main focus of Prize Day, and the number of prizes awarded has decreased in years past, there is no denying that we are the trophy generation. The trophy generation is defined as the millennial generation, born between the 1980s and 2000s. We are called the trophy generation because of our feeling of entitlement and seeking of rewards, or, one might say, our need for trophies.
The Wall Street Journal says to “blame it on doting parents, teachers, and coaches”. For the most part, I agree. Another reason we are called the trophy generation is that our parents, who are for the most part financially well-off, had children (us) to commemorate their success. As the Boston Globe said, the millennial children were “spawned not for their usefulness at harvest but because they look so precious in those matching pajamas”. Growing up in environments so luxurious and pampered compared to the childhoods of our parents, we have been raised to expect only the best. Our sense of entitlement is spectacular. It is not limited to trophies, but also grades, college acceptances, leadership positions, varsity team memberships, and money. We want to be handed the greatest of all of the above mentioned things, and our parents exacerbate this notion by constantly assuring us that yes, we are special; yes, we are worthy; yes, we deserve this; yes; yes; yes. Adults from our parents’ generation also reinforce this sense of entitlement by appeasing children with trophies for absolutely anything, meaning for nothing at all. Today, a child only has to show up and sit on the bench for a soccer game to be recognized with a “participation” medal. I, myself, had quite a few of these growing up.
At my old school’s awards ceremony a few years ago, nearly everyone from my brother’s JV basketball team received a medal, whether it was MVP or best shooter, or whatever else the coach could think of. By the end of the season, my brother still could not make a hoop to save his life, and as the last person to make his way up to the stage, he received a “most improved” medal and a weak pat on the back. Call me cruel, but I shook with silent laughter in the audience.
Our generation has become so expectant of rewards and so dependent on trophies to confirm our worth that our sense of self-esteem, despite the superiority complex, is incredibly frail. Everyone demands to be in first place, and if we are not, well then, we need some other reward as consolation. The children of our generation have been conditioned to need constant praise, coddling, and sheltering. We just cannot stand not having things go our way. In an era in which the maturing adolescents are so completely full of themselves, what is the next step?
The answer is simple. The problem is a sense of entitlement, and so the solution is to dispel such a misguided conviction. In fact, Groton does a fair job of this. From the beginning, the understanding that you will automatically get 100 because you are simply brilliant is beaten out of you the moment you spot the unflinching C on your first paper. We stroll up to tryouts on the first day thinking we are guaranteed a spot on varsity, being the superstars we are, and are dismayed to be offered a more fitting place on the thirds team. All of a sudden, we are not the most popular kids in school, nor the most talented. It is a shock (rather depressing, actually) to realize that we are not as special as we thought, we are no longer all valedictorians, and there is no one handing out medals like candy. Of course, Grotonians complain all the time that people here are arrogant, spoiled, sheltered, and entitled. To an extent, there is no denying that this is true. After all, what can be expected when all the valedictorians, varsity captains, and coolest kids from hundreds of schools are thrown together? Our ambition and talent led us here, so there is no doubt that we all take pride in our abilities. Despite the superiority complex present in most of us, Groton does its best to keep our egos in check. 90s are not tossed out left and right, but earned by fighting to prove you deserve that grade. Spots on varsity are gained by working your way up from thirds. There are no medals for “participation”, handed over with a wan smile. Groton never gives you anything simply by virtue of your brilliant existence, and you work for what you get. If you don’t get anything, there’s no consolation prize. This sounds extremely harsh on paper, but this is the best method to prepare our generation for life and the workplace. A school with no one to coddle us is arguably the greatest place we could be in order to drop our delusion of deserving everything. I’ve received many shining, empty cups in my school career, but here, having received no trophy at all,
I feel more assured of my abilities than ever.