Senior "Most Likely To"s Reveal
Animosity Among Senior Class
By Ronni H.
February 26, 2019
Many seniors were shocked when their peers, some of who have been classmates for over four years, began brutally attacking each other online, turning a beloved yearbook tradition into a slaughterhouse where everyone seemed to be both the butcher and the meat.
The distribution of the yearbook is a highly anticipated moment in most students’ remaining days of school. It signifies the culmination of another year, and that feeling is not more poignant for anyone else than the seniors, who immediately flip to their individual senior pages and the Senior Most Likely Tos, a page featuring the entire senior class, each with an adorable baby photo, and a “Most likely to…” suggested by their own classmates.
Each year the yearbook staff sends out an email to all of the seniors sharing a spreadsheet with every seniors’ name and successive empty boxes for classmates to fill in what they think would be most appropriate for that individual’s “Most likely to.” The comments usually range from funny (sometimes with a little bit of a roast) to admiration and encouragement; for example, “Most likely to become president” or “Most likely to walk into a wall.”
On February 5, the annual email appeared in the inbox of the entire senior class at 10:26 am from Daniel Calmeyer, Upper School Math and Computer Science Teacher and Faculty Advisor for Yearbook. Despite the fact that students received the email in the middle of F block, immediately dozens of seniors were on the shared spreadsheet finding their friends and writing funny inside jokes in the horizontal boxes after their names. As many preoccupied eyes stared at their computer screens in classrooms, in the commons, and anywhere else with reception, something shifted in the playful air of the comments. Things started getting nasty.
At some point, there was a shared realization that everyone on the document, besides Kaley P., ’19, the Yearbook staffer in charge of the document, was anonymous. Suddenly, comment after comment became competitively more aggressive, as students targeted each other in blatant cyber bullying. Comments included sexual references or innuendos, crude language, and flagrant attacks on appearance and personality.
“What was surprising was the immediacy,” reflected Calmeyer. “The fact that I heard from three different sources within 10 minutes of the first email saying people are being mean was shocking.”
Only a little over two hours after the initial email, Calmeyer sent out a follow-up email describing his disappointment in the senior class for not being mature and decent enough to participate in this cherished tradition. “It would have been lovely to not have to send this message, but within an hour of my last email, I received several notices of seniors being rude, disrespectful, and just plain nasty while discussing which most likely titles to give to their fellow seniors,” wrote Calmeyer. “It is an understatement to say that this is not cool. Knock it off. Be better.”
Those of us who have been here since 7th grade were having flashbacks to the ask.fm fiasco: an anonymous online social media platform that resulted in the first form of widespread cyber bullying the class of 2019 had experienced.
“Our class has an unfortunate reputation for being mean on social media - like ask.fm in 7th grade - and we can’t use it as an excuse anymore,” said Ashley F., ’19, a lifer and one of the three Editors-In-Chief of the Yearbook. “Social media is so ingrained in our lives, and we all know social media etiquette. I was really disappointed.”
Many seniors on the document, including Kaley and other yearbookers, scrambled to delete any obscene comments as soon as they were written - a stressful and laborious task considering the amount of crude statements proliferating by the second. But screenshots were taken of the comments in the moments between when they were written and deleted, and they were quickly distributed. Those in the senior class not on the spreadsheet during the height of the activity were quickly filled in.
“I was overwhelmed with the amount I was having to delete,” said Kaley. “And people started attacking me because I wasn’t anonymous. They began writing things like, ‘Most likely to ruin most likely tos,’ referencing me, Ashley, and a few others deleting all the mean comments.”
The following day, Wednesday the 6th, Gary Baldwin, Director of the Upper School, sent out an email with the subject “Decency” addressing what had occurred the day before.
“It’s come to my attention that some of you have taken what was to be a fun thing, the “most likely to” list, and seized upon it as an opportunity to ridicule some of your peers from behind what you trust is an impenetrable cloak of anonymity,” wrote Baldwin. “Saying mean things because you think you can get away with it is - there’s no other word for it - cowardly. But more important than that, it is mean-spirited and beneath you in every possible way. It is unworthy of you; it is unworthy of Westridge.”
And that seemed to be the end of it all. Under the vigilant eyes of faculty, administration, yearbook staffers, and peers, the document received no further cruel or spiteful comments. The only lingering effect was the question plaguing many people’s minds: why?
Was there some hidden resentment among the seniors that was suddenly given a megaphone under the guise of anonymity? Why was this innocent platform manipulated to become a source of widespread bullying with a live audience? Does this episode speak more to the specific nature of the senior class, or is this an accepted by-product of our social media obsession and conduct? The thin line between funny and mean seemed to all but disappear in a matter of a few minutes, a phenomenon present both in middle school and in the second semester of the final year of highschool.
The irony is that hanging in every room on the Westridge campus is a framed sign boldly outlining our core values: “integrity, respect, responsibility, inclusion.” Westridge students are well-versed in issues of equity. One would also hope that the bonds created over the years would be strong enough to withstand the temptation to target their peers. There is a group of seniors who are lifers, people who have been at Westridge since fourth grade, and many of the seniors have spent over six years growing together in the same environment. Friendship squabbles and disagreements are inevitable in any preteens’ and teenagers’ lives, and yet this level of malice seemed shocking for a small class of only 75 students.
“I was surprised by the level of meanness,” said Calmeyer. “In the past years there have usually been people being obnoxious, but in the sense of ‘haha, that’s dumb’ and we delete it. But this was different.”
Some students, however, weren’t surprised.
“I wasn’t surprised. There are mean people in our grade,” remarked Kaley. “Some people used [the spreadsheet] as what it was meant for, and others used it as an outlet to rant.”
“I think whenever you open up an anonymous platform some problems can occur. It brought me back to middle school when ask.fm was a big thing, so I wasn’t surprised in that sense,” said Quyen M.,’19. “I was surprised that people our age - I mean we’re all 17 and 18 - were going after each other so harshly.”
“It was so disheartening to see my classmates tear each other down when I was really hoping we were at a point where we could just enjoy our last bit of time together,” says Caroline N., ’19. “We don’t all have to be friends, but it’s frustrating that people were stooping so low and cyber bullying each other instead of just being respectful.”
Speaking as a member of the senior class as well as a lifer, I was disappointed and shocked at what had occurred. In the interviews I’ve conducted, no one has been willing to come forward or assume responsibility for partaking in the rampage of crude comments, and yet, everyone is convinced they’ve identified the culprits, evidence that the wounds from this episode are more than skin deep. In addition, the lack of any official or unofficial reckoning makes me question whether a resolution has been reached. It’s one thing for administration to put a stop to the bullying, and another to veil the episode with a cone of awkward silence and gently brush it under the rug, something for which our class is as much to blame.
“I would imagine that the individuals targeted might be a little more upset about the situation and want to get to the bottom of things,” commented Quyen. “But I think the senior class as a whole was not very affected. Everyone else took it as another social media scandal and besides the slap on the wrist from [Calmeyer and Baldwin], everyone knew that unless a specific person came forward, which no one did, nothing was going to happen.”
Because no one was willing to come forward during or after the debacle, scapegoating amplified the controversy and tension.
“Even when I was on the document, I saw people name calling one another despite everyone being anonymous,” recalls Quyen. “As far as I know, there were no confrontations in person. Just a lot of whispering and rumors being spread around about certain people being the ones who were responsible. But everything was kind of up in the air.”
In the following days, few apologies were made between classmates for what had transpired. In the weeks after, conversation about the affair dwindled to the point where no one seemed to give it much thought. Some have speculated that stress may be the source for student aggression. Others believe little can be done to quell the temptation of anonymity on social media and online platforms. Regardless of the causes, the current collective feeling is for everyone to move on. With little more than three months left together as a class at Westridge, it feels as if this whole situation was a wakeup call to set aside playground squabbles and enjoy the company of those who will be scattered around the country at this time next year.
“I don’t feel like there was a direct resolution,” continues Caroline. “But I think people are ready to end our last year without another event like this.”