“Most Likely to…”

Ever wonder what became of the people who were voted ‘most likely to succeed’ in your high school class? I don’t have to – I was one of them.  Alan Schick and I were selected from the Canarsie High School class of 1976. Though I don’t think Alan is famous, I certainly don’t hold that against him, neither am I. Success and fame are not synonymous in my estimation. We are Facebook friends and as best as I can tell, he is a successful attorney and family man. I hope he feels he has a fulfilling life. [Alan, if you are reading this and would like to chime in, please do!]

I’ve been thinking about it recently and, naturally me being me, the designation raises lots of questions. I wondered if anyone has ever done of study: were those folks predicted to be successful by their classmates actually successful? How did their lives turn out?

Not withstanding that question, why do we select classmates as most likely to succeed in the first place? Who came up with the idea? All of those ‘senior superlatives’ are tricky and they can be controversial, too. I looked back at my high school yearbook.

my high school yearbook

We had some interesting titles: Mr. and Miss Canarsie, Mr. and Miss Soul, Class Flirt, Class Fox (separate from cutest boy and girl obviously).  What were we thinking with class flirt and fox? Popularity surely plays a role in all the selections. Why do we vote for any of the categories? I suppose it is fun, but is it?

Since I had all these questions I went to the font of all knowledge – Google. I typed in: Are people voted most likely to succeed successful? Voila! I found a piece addressing some of my questions on NPR (from 2011). It reported the following:

“A recent poll by the high school reunion networking site MemoryLane.com found nearly one-third of those named most likely [to succeed] came to regard it as a curse…” [Please note, it was not offered as a scientific study/]

Only 1/3, that doesn’t sound too bad. Apparently, another third of those polled said the designation had no significance at all, some had even forgotten about it entirely. One person quoted in the piece reported finding motivation in it. When things got difficult, he thought back on the confidence people had in him and it helped.

I can’t say I found it helpful, but I also wasn’t burdened by it. I do remember having some trepidation about attending our 30th high school reunion. I wondered how I would be judged, if people would be disappointed when I reported what I was doing. It turned out to be a nonissue. Though I chatted with people about my life, I don’t recall anyone commenting on whether I measured up to the label.

At the root of this lies a more important question: what does success mean? When 17- or 18-year-olds choose a classmate, what are the metrics of success they have in mind? According to that same NPR piece, most people polled said ‘rising to the top of your field,’ making a lot of money and becoming famous. By those standards, I wouldn’t make the cut. I didn’t have a field, per se. I worked in different government/nonprofit positions. I didn’t make a lot of money and I am not famous either (at least not yet, perhaps this blog will go viral, though I have been at it for five years and it hasn’t happened. Besides, fame is not my goal.).  Not mentioned as criteria: having a long, loving marriage, raising children to be productive adults, maintaining friendships and family ties, continuing to grow and learn. If those were the measures, I’d be solid.

Whether one was voted most likely to succeed, another senior superlative or if one escaped high school without a designation, everyone deals with the weight of expectations. One way or another, we have to sort out what our parents want for us, the hopes of our family and community and what we want for ourselves.

Some may have to overcome a lack of expectation; feeling that no one has hopes for them. We all have challenges making our way in the adult world.

Should high schools continue this tradition? I’m under the impression that some have stopped. Did you get voted one of these titles? How has that impacted your life, if at all? I hope you’ll share. I’d love to get a conversation started.

8 thoughts on ““Most Likely to…”

  1. I consider being selected as Class Jester at Canarsie one of the greatest accolades of my life, it’s all been downhill since then. Also, looking back at the categories, I cringe at the racism embedded in the selections. Mr. and Mrs. Soul? Ouch!

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    1. Linda, I feel honored to have received a shout out in your “ stories I tell myself” blog. If success is gauged by being able to say you achieved the goals you set for yourself while living a happy and fulfilling life, then I have had much success. Since you invited me to chime in, let me add that in addition to your most likely to succeed designation, you were also a bicentennial scholar. Quite a stellar student!

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      1. Thanks, Alan! I’m so glad you ‘chimed in!’ I am happier still that you can report that you have had much success (of the most important kind). I wish you continued health and happiness. And thanks for the reminder of the bicentennial scholar program – I had forgotten about that!

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  2. I had no senior superlatives but if I was going to have one it would probably have been least likely to get noticed. But I still felt the weight of expectations.
    I think my father probably was more enthusiastic about me going to Med school than I was and it took some time to decide that I wanted it too.
    Once there, it turned out to be a great fit but there was definitely some heartburn getting to that decision.
    Thank you for the blog post-we are not disappointed.

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    1. Yes, I appreciate that even without getting voted some title, we may bear the weight of expectations. You carried yours well and sorted things out for yourself. Your father took so much pride and joy in your accomplishments – not only as a doctor but as the man you are. We all do.

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  3. It is impossible for someone to judge another persons success. Each individual sets their own goals and expectations of what they want to accomplish in their life. Most likely to succeed in high school is no reflection on future accomplishments. It is a tremendous accomplishment to receive that recognition as voted by your classmates. As an outsider, that is an uncle, I couldn’t be more proud of what you have accomplished in your life and the amazing woman you have become.

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    1. Thank you for your kind words. I am lucky to have you as my uncle! And, you’re right – each person has to set their own goals and expectations. I think that is a process and can be hard to separate out as a teenager. People who know what they want and see their path are fortunate.

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