Many of you here know Cafe Avant-Garde, a website and student publication that I founded a couple years ago, and for which I’m currently the editorial director. Over the last two years, we’ve grown quite a bit, building a pretty amazing team of writers with really interesting ideas worth sharing and a group excited about talking about things that matter in the world, not because we were assigned to write about them, but because we legitmiately believe our ideas matter.
Because my graduation is inevitable, and because the website’s pretty strongly tied to West Lafayette High School, I’ve considered a couple of times the idea of transitioning Cafe AG into a school club. There are definitely enticing benefits. We’d have a much easier time searching for talented writers and getting great people with ideas worth sharing, we’d have more resources behind us, and we’d be able to outlast my high school career. These are solid benefits.
But as I talked about recently, I weigh a lot of decisions about projects against the missions and goals that I hold for each project, and after considering those goals and what becoming a school club would entail, I chose every time so far not to make that change. Here’s why.
1. Independence and initiative
I take a great deal of pride in the fact that Cafe AG is entirely founded, written, and managed by students. From its inception to where it is now, with upwards of a thousand pageviews each month, Cafe AG has existed not because any teacher or sponsor pushed it to exist, but because the people here wanted it to exist, because they believed in our idea that we needed a common, independent outlet through which we could share our words and our views with a wider audience. Sure, the school has its own newspaper, and sure, we have a debate team, but we’re not backed by a class, and we write for our readers, not for credit. I think that makes a huge deal of difference in what we talk about on Cafe AG, and what kinds of ideas we share with our audience.
Throughout Cafe AG’s journey, our independent initiative to keep our mission alive has been a key part of our identity. If we were to become a school club, a lot of the initiative would eventually disappear, leaving it a blander place. I’m afraid writing here will become less of an opportunity to be savored and more of a task or an obligation to be fulfilled, which won’t help the quality of the thoughts we share.
By virtue of being a part of such a huge organization as the school district, school clubs have a lot of restrictions, some of which act against them, and would go against our goals.
We’d need a teacher to sponsor our organization as a club, which would, on paper, take away our independence. We’d need to bring our technology to within the school, which I wouldn’t prefer as the site’s designer and developer. We’d need to show some proof that our activity had relevance to academics in our classes, which, frankly, I don’t care for, because we don’t exist to fulfill academic requirements. We have other goals, and I don’t want to be distracted by those requirements, even if they’re subtle changes.
But most of all, as a school club, we’d have to welcome everyone who wanted to join into our writing team, no exceptions.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re very open here (and if you’re a decent writer, you should apply — contact one of our staff), but because school clubs are targets for people who chase accolades for resumes and college apps rather than the value of the activity itself, I fear that becoming a club would take away our ability to reject students who’d do it for an extra line in their paperwork.
We’re not about bettering your chances at getting into Harvard, and if that’s the ruler by which you measure you’re life’s accomplishments, you’re not welcome here, no matter how awesome of a writer you are. I don’t want Cafe AG reduced to something people do for their resumes.
3. A better experience (for myself, yeah…)
I see your “founded a club” on your resume, and raise you a “founded an independent website” on my CV.
A lot of people found new clubs and take leadership roles in them, sometimes for the experience, but most of the times for those resume items. For now, let’s ignore that distinction, though.
I like having an independent organization. I don’t have to report our progress to anyone, I don’t have to worry about anyone shutting us down, and I like us being in control of our own destiny.
Even if you’re the president of one of the larger clubs at our school, the experiences you get are nothing compared to the ones you earn through starting websites, projects, and businesses completely independently. Getting people together is way more difficult, and so is getting started without the help of the start of a new school year to push everyone to join all the clubs.
On top of that, we needed to get a name and a website, find a nice place to meet outside of school, set up meeting plans and ways of communicating, and decide how we’d take in and approve new members during those meetings. (And this is a simplified version.) Doing all of that, learning how to do it, was an experience I wouldn’t ever want to miss. And a lot of that goes away when you have the schools’s classrooms, the teachers, the administration, and a class full of grade-motivated students behind you. It makes life easier, but further from the real world.
I like independence. I’m self-motivated, I don’t like to work for other people, and I like setting my own goals and missions. And that’s not a right or a wrong way to do things, that’s just a part of my personality. But when I have an exciting new project to work on, I want that project to be mine. I want to decide where we go, and what we do. I want to be involved in every step of the process, and learn the minutiae of everything going on. So I don’t like school clubs.
I view founding school clubs as a kind of an easy way out. It’s there if you need it, and it’ll give you something to start out with, and a safety net if you fail. But when you have a choice, I’d always recommend looking outside. You might think our school’s full of interesting ideas and people, but trust me, it’s way crazier out those doors, and once you go outside, you don’t really come back.
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