Elite East side high school ranks last in happiness study
Hunter College High School, at 71st East 94th Street, is a school of superlatives. It’s regularly recognized as one of (if not the) most successful public schools in the city and nationwide, and is an ivy feeder, putting its graduates on the fast track to a life amongst the intellectual elite. Now, it’s been saddled with a less-stellar distinction: saddest spot in New York.
A new study by the New England Complex Systems Institute released August 20 took a measure of mood in the city using geo-tagged tweets. Twitter users are known for their informal, concise language, and tweets are frequently accented by the use of emoticons like “:)” or “:(“). After researchers established a correlation between the emoticons and the words that would accompany them, they divided all the chosen tweets by location and mapped the city’s mood.
Yaneer Bar-Yam, the study’s principal investigator, notes that high-density traffic spots like the midtown tunnel are associated with more negative emotions, while Central Park and Fort Tyron Park – the peaceful, green lungs of Manhattan – are associated with positive sentiment.
“We looked at the locations with strong positive or negative sentiment, and the results are intuitive, which is strong confirmation that we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
And, according to the study, in all of New York City, the most negative place to be is Hunter College High School.
Several Hunter grads rushed to defend the institution. “I had a really great time there,” Mynette Louie, an independent film producer from the class of ’93 says. “I wasn’t happy about commuting over an hour to get to school… but I had a good time, because I was surrounded by all these smart people… it was pretty nerdy, but it was also just fun.”
Caroline Friedman, class of ’06, thinks the atmosphere was intense, but never cutthroat competitive.
“I’m in law school now, and when I was applying I’d hear stories that at some law schools, people will rip out the relevant pages from the library books so other people couldn’t read it. It was nothing like that,” Friedman says. “At Hunter, there was a lot of cooperation: people were sharing notes, people were copying homework.”
Still, Friedman notes that there was limited sunlight in the classrooms (the students refer to the building itself as “the brick prison”), and advises current Hunter College High School students to, “go to the park during lunch. spend some time in the courtyard.”
Other alumni are less glowing in their reviews of the Hunter community; Sachi Ezura, class of ’04, remembers high school as one of the most difficult times in her life. “One thing I remember, is that everyone would go home and write in their Xanga or their Livejournal [online blogs]. And this one kid, all the popular kids used to pass around his blog… people reveled in each others’ sadness.”
Ezura herself spent considerable time in the nurse’s office when she would get upset, and she notes that in her class’s yearbook, there’s a drawing of her crying on a page entitled, “A Day in the Life of the Senior Class at Hunter.”
Michelle Kang, class of ’02, thinks a large part of the stress was related to the high pressure of the school combined with the inherent stress of living in New York. “I mean, you think all the typical things American kids get to do in high school: driving around, going to football games… I was in the middle of this dense, dirty place, trying to catch a train.” Kang has since moved to Seattle, and is getting her master’s degree in architecture.
Still, all Hunter alumni seem to agree that the experience, however painful or enjoyable, was indispensible. And when asked, all maintain that their closest friends in adulthood are people they met while at Hunter.
“I think if people can step away from [the academic pressure] and appreciate that this is the time in your life when you’re surrounded by the most intelligent, special people, that there’s a lot to be gained by that,” Benjamin Axelrod, class of ’02 says. “It’s a really good group.”
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