Headbloom Blog

Who Is the Most Likely to Succeed?
An American tradition of labeling and popularity contests.

As American schools count down the final weeks of classes for the 2010-11 school year, thousands of graduating seniors are voting for classmates in a U.S. tradition, the Most-Biggest-Best categories. With a culture steeped in competition and individual (rather than group) orientation, it is not surprising to interculturalists that Americans would have such an institution.

In addition to identifying the Best Dancer or Most Attractive students, these “awards” also recognize the student who is Most Likely to Succeed. At least for some winners of this last title, the label has been seen as more of a burden than a help, according to a recent article. Other students in the survey, however, found the recognition honorific and motivating in their years after graduation.

The following two dozen categories are representative of the voting list at many American high schools. Note that 40% the categories are about physical traits or possessions, with the rest about personalities.
Best Smile
Prettiest Eyes
Best Body
Best Laugh
Best Personality
Biggest Drama King and Queen—(fe)male experiencing life loudly, dramatically, emotionally, and maybe selfishly
Most Attractive
Best Car
Cutest Couple
Most Likely to be President
Everybody’s Friend
Most Athletic
Life of the Party—person who celebrates with charm, humor, and good cheer
Best Dressed
Biggest Flirt—person who likes tease and create appearance of romantic interest without serious intentions
Most Shy
Most Outspoken
Most Gullible—will easily believe people’s unlikely or questionable stories
Worst Case of Senioritis—Students in the senior class often lose interest in studying in the closing months of their graduation from high school. The suffix -itis indicates being a senior creates a kind of inflammation or disease.
Most Musical
Most Artistic
Most Dependable
Biggest Procrastinator
Best Dance Moves

In the United States, the trend to hold such “superlatives” elections has continued to decline, according to the Wall Street Journal article. Today, only 25% of American high schools conduct such surveys, compared with 75% two decades ago. (For the record, I was voted Best Smile from the 1971 graduating class of Rochester Adams High School, which celebrates its 40th class reunion later this year—yikes!). Part of the explanation is that schools are afraid of the liability that may come from branding students with negative labels. I think school and community leaders are also starting to feel uncomfortable about reinforcing student stereotypes and publicizing these opinions as official popularity (or unpopularity) contests.

The next time you are talking with your American friends, ask them if their schools had such elections, who won some of the “honors,” and how they felt about that.

New Vocabulary & Cultural Concepts (from WSJ article)

mark = label, brand
saddling = burdening, loading down, encumbering
overblown = exaggerated
hanging over = lingering, not going away
went on to = later did these other things
pull down = (informal) earn
benchmark = reference point
vote of confidence = official statement of approval
noosed = tied around the neck with a rope
lugging = carrying something heavy
albatross = 1. (idiom) a burden, 2. a large sea bird
bestowed on = given to, presented to
nostalgic = fond feelings about past times
fostered = encouraged, created
Lleras = Today in the U.S., most names which begin with double-L are from Spanish (with the Ll pronounced as Y), but a few double-L names are from Welch (and pronounced like single-L in English), like Lloyd.
extracurricular = outside of regular studying or school activities
channeled = directed, focused
pink slip = a notice saying you have been fired from your job
rocket = rise or shoot up quickly
elusive = difficult to catch or identify
shunning = avoiding
veering = turning
milestone = marker of achievement
student council = American schools have an elected governing body of students making decisions about some kinds of school-wide activities and fundraising.
class president = American high schools have an elected body of officers making decisions about activities for the entire class. (First-year students are sometimes called freshmen, 2nd year — sophomores, 3rd year — juniors, 4th year — seniors.)
floundering = struggling, not making progress
hindsight = after-the-fact analysis, retrospect

Alan Headbloom