The Ins and Outs of the Stuyvesant Diploma
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Whenever I say that I dropped the Stuyvesant diploma, I receive a series of responses that almost always fall into one of the following four different categories: “Why? It’s really not that bad,” “Me too! It’s so pointless,” or “Lucky, I wish I could, but my parents would never let me.” But, the final response—“But doesn’t that mean you’re not gonna get a Stuyvesant diploma? Then what’s the point of coming to Stuyvesant?”—sticks out the most because it is based upon a common misconception.
The Stuyvesant diploma is not, in and of itself, an actual diploma. Rather, it is an embossment, essentially a seal, on your diploma that signifies that you’ve taken and completed certain additional credits. The actual diploma every single student who graduates from Stuyvesant receives, not in the embossment that the Stuyvesant diploma gives you, reflects the experience of getting through Stuyvesant.
The requirements for the Stuyvesant diploma include fulfilling the necessary credits for the Advanced Regents Diploma, as well as taking additional, primarily STEM, classes. For the Stuyvesant diploma, students must pass one term of mechanical drawing, at least one term of computer science, and a total of five terms of computer science, technology, or applied science courses, four years of mathematics, four years of science, three years of the same world language and either pass the swim test or take a semester of swim gym.
Art Appreciation and Music Appreciation are not elements of the Stuyvesant diploma as many think, but are rather Stuyvesant’s way of meeting the two-semester art requirement for the New York State Advanced Regents Diploma. This arts requirement, however, could be met with a myriad of other options, including theater, dance, film, photography, and different visual art and music classes. Many students, especially those who already have prior knowledge in art and music, would prefer taking a more niche class over general art or music history.
Staffing and programming are primary reasons for eliminating these other options. Assistant Principal of Administration and Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick suggested, “If you’re not sure how many kids want to take painting versus watercolor versus sculpture, then this is a way of [streamlining the process].”
Among the student body, the Stuyvesant diploma is widely disputed in its worth and necessity. Some students believe that the Stuyvesant diploma is an integral part of Stuyvesant. Freshman Julia Amiri expressed, “I felt that [getting] the Stuyvesant diploma came with the admissions letter.”
Other students disagree. “I believe in choice [...] if somebody wants to try out a class, by all means they should. The Stuyvesant diploma doesn’t allow students to explore their interests and what they want,” junior Theadora Williams wrote in an e-mail interview. She went on to explain that the requirements of the diploma limit students’ ability to take meaningful electives.
To this, Pedrick responded, “For staffing purposes, budget purposes [...] we really need to have a good idea of what path our students are on. So, this number of students are in this level of math, and they’ll roll into this level of math next year. It is a wonderful idea in theory for students to be able to have [the] choice [of taking more electives], but it may not be doable for all of the scheduling aspects that we have to consider.”
A majority of Stuyvesant students do end up receiving the Stuyvesant diploma. Of the 2019 graduating class, 88 percent of the students received the diploma.
When discussing the benefits of the Stuyvesant diploma, Director of Family Engagement Dina Ingram wrote in an e-mail interview, “The requirement of taking four years of math has brought the availability of courses well beyond the state high school requirements to Stuyvesant. If students only fulfilled high school requirements, who would take these post secondary courses? Lack of demand would mean we couldn’t run the[m].”
It is unclear, however, as to whether a majority of students get the diploma because of an actual willingness to take the courses or a prevalence of misinformation and lack of knowledge. Already more than halfway through her freshman year, Amiri said, “I [still] don’t completely know all of the requirements.”
Other students report not being informed of the requirements until they hear about it from their friends. Many students said they had first heard about it during their sophomore year or perhaps later, when they had already started taking classes required only by the Stuyvesant diploma. Junior Geoffrey Lin explained, “At this point, I feel as if it's too late [to drop the diploma] anyway, so I might as well get it.”
Pedrick explained that students and their parents are informed of the requirements when they come into Stuyvesant, but are not necessarily in the right headspace to be absorbing the information. This is because many incoming freshmen and their parents are occupied with the transition to Stuyvesant and because none of the requirements for the diploma occur during freshman year. In an effort to raise awareness about the diploma, the administration has added a segment about the Stuyvesant diploma to the freshman seminars.
The Stuyvesant diploma is a staple of Stuyvesant. As such, many guidance counselors and members of the administration push for students to get the diploma. This is a sign of how much the administration believes in the benefits of getting those additional credits. For those students that decide to stray from the typical path and drop the diploma, however, it can be difficult to find support.
Pressure from different sources and lack of support from guidance counselors can make both the decision to and the actuality of dropping the diploma difficult. Freshman Ameer Alnasser said, “Pressure from yourself is the main thing, but [there’s also pressure from] your parents because of the name ‘Stuy diploma’ and the fact that it’s mandated, which makes it seem as if you need to get it, and if you don’t, you’re not really a Stuy student. Another factor is guidance counselors not telling you [about dropping] and not allowing you [to drop].”
Some students also feel a sense of pressure to get the diploma because they feel that it’s important for college. Williams wrote, “[Many students feel that there’s] the threat of colleges looking at them differently.”
There are, however, some students who do choose to drop the diploma. Sophomore Naomi Sacks said, “I dropped the diploma because I don’t feel it’s necessary for what I plan on doing with my life [...] I agree that the intent is to make students more well rounded, but if you’re just taking a class for the Stuy diploma you’re not going to use what you learn because you’re just going to be trying to get through it.”
Pinpointing an increasingly common sentiment among Stuyvesant students, Williams added, “I dropped the Stuy diploma my sophomore year because it [...] would force me to take classes I didn't want to take at the expense of ones I did.”
Ultimately, the Stuyvesant diploma is a significant part of going through Stuyvesant. As Ingram said, “The Stuy diploma plays an important role in who we are as the Stuyvesant community and an integral role in what this school represents as an institution.”
That being said, it is important that all students understand that they have the option of not receiving the diploma and are able to make the right choice for themselves. Every student that graduates from Stuyvesant goes through the Stuyvesant experience regardless of the presence or lack thereof of an embossment on their diploma. At the end of the day, it’s up to each student to decide whether the additional credits are worth it or whether a different path would be more beneficial to them.
As Ingram said, “Those who decide to opt out do so thoughtfully and still thoroughly engage in the unique experience of being at Stuyvesant High School graduating with a diploma from this fine institution, just not bearing that extra seal.”