A matter of virtue: Defending the standing ovation

Arsh Aggarwal ’24

Reflections represent everything the school stands for. They offer students a chance to be vulnerable—vulnerability that’s met with praise, not condemnation. For years, those brave enough took this opportunity with open arms and a little bit of fear, knowing that their experiences would be valued by the greater community and that their bravery would be awarded with an ovation. 

After a series of unremarkable senior Reflections, though, this practice has come under question. 

Standing ovations weren’t always the norm. In fact, the practice is as new as this school year. Never before has the student body given standing ovations to every student’s Reflection. 

The majority of Reflection-givers are required to give them based on their standing in the Signet Society — a group of peer-elected Sixth Form leaders—and thus, it was only natural that not every speaker would bring the audience to their feet. This common acceptance that not every Reflection was going to be exceptional allowed the community to keep its expectations in check. However, somewhere along the way this year, students unintentionally set a precedent for giving standing ovations to each speaker. 

Standing ovation after Mr. Tate’s Reflection, April 10 – Pierce Laveran ’24

This precedent proved to be dangerous because as the school community gave its all after each Reflection, it expected the same from the speaker. As people continued to stand up, the expectations for each next Reflection grew up to a point that could rarely be met. 

So, why can’t we stop? If a Reflection isn’t good, why should it receive the highest praise an audience can give?

It’s a matter of virtue. When a student or faculty member gets on that stage, no matter how much of an effect their subject has on you, they are still vulnerable. Even if it isn’t vulnerability directly within the story they are sharing, it’s  vulnerability through the act of sharing something that the wider community may not see as important and the silent criticisms that come with that. Even if a Reflection isn’t about the most serious of topics, everybody who gets on that stage deserves to have the audience support them fully. 

If we don’t stand for one another, then who will?

Bringing up virtue seems like a cop-out answer, I get that. But think back to other instances where we stand up for our peers no matter how they perform. Take the talent show, for example. During a performance where someone is clearly nervous, we start singing and clapping along, and give everyone a big standing ovation. That’s what support means. That’s what makes this place unlike any other. 

If we don’t stand for one another, then who will?

Nonetheless, there are some considerations to be made for future Reflections. To students, look at Reflections as time to learn something new about someone you may or may not know; let deeper meaning and revelation be a rare but welcome accent to your time. 

To administrators, don’t force students to give a Reflection. It seems that the majority of this year’s problems came not only because of high expectations—something an audience has a right to have—but also because Signet Society members were forced into them. Consider the effect forced Reflections are having on the reputation of what was once a well-respected event, and if quantity must supersede quality.

Finally, to future Reflectors, don’t be afraid to tap into your emotions when you reflect. Leave no room for regret after getting up on the stage—you’ll only ever remember what you didn’t say. 

Author: Arsh Aggarwal '24

Arsh Aggarwal is currently the Sr. Managing Editor of The Index. His previous roles were Editor of Features and Campus Opinions. In 2023, Arsh was awarded the First Place prize in the Pennsylvania Press Club Annual High School Journalism Contest for his piece titled "SAT going digital in 2024",