Something to prove: Achieving the IB diploma goes beyond a simple piece of paper

Illustration by Kimberly Martinez
The IB diploma represents a challenge. Earning the diploma would mark my transformation as a once average and unknown student into someone who went above and beyond to test her limits.

Two out of 20.

With one glaring statistic from my Spanish teacher at Harding High School, all the confidence I had gained upon pursuing the International Baccalaureate diploma slowly drained from my body.

Seven IB classes and tests, a 4,000 word paper, a required Theory of Knowledge course, all those hours of individual projects, sports and volunteering completed—and still no diploma.

Two Harding students out of 20? Really?

Now, the only question that ran through my head was if it would be worth it—and more importantly, if I was even able to continue to pursue the diploma with grim statistics like that. I had already put so much into the program to simply give up at the start of my senior year, though.

Then another reality check. Two weeks into this fall semester, five other students decided to drop the diploma program.

This all began my junior year when I left Park High School, where I started the IB program. I switched schools due to a change in my living situation, and because Woodbury High School didn’t offer IB, I chose Harding so I could stay on track with what I already started. Except this was only supposed to be temporary and I would return to Park this year—my all-important senior year—to graduate with the class I grew up with.

But life, or at least life with strict IB requirements, has a way of ruining plans. If I went back to Park, I wouldn’t have had enough time or credits to achieve the IB diploma. I also started the paperwork to open my own local chapter of a group for Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) activities, and then there was the start of my 4,000-word extended essay.

To stay in the running as an IB diploma candidate, I’d have to stay at Harding.


So why go through all of this pain? I ask myself that question every day.

The IB diploma represents a challenge. Earning the diploma would mark my transformation from a once average and unknown student into someone who went above and beyond to test her limits. And while receiving recognition and a gold medal at graduation would be nice—I mean, who doesn’t love a gold medal?—transferring credits to college, priority choice in college selection and the availability of scholarships will mean so much more.

I also have too much to prove. To my teachers. To my classmates. To myself.

I have always been an art student. That’s how I choose to learn, preferring graphic design and world crafts to more difficult core honors courses. So I understand why others would be skeptical of my academic abilities, even once I entered the IB program.

It’s why some of my classmates refuse to believe I’m attempting an extraordinary academic act, and instead question the validity of my diploma since I’m taking two IB art classes (film and visual arts) while they’re double dipping in math or science. They ignore the fact that I don’t strive to be a doctor but instead a graphic designer, which apparently isn’t as valued.


But quieting those doubters hasn’t been nearly as difficult as trying to balance my IB requirements with the social life I once knew. Between rigorous essays, 10-minute oral presentations, investigation labs and art projects, it takes a lot of energy to schedule anything else in life.

Honestly, it becomes easier to stay home and work on papers instead of going to a football game. I’d just stress out about finishing those assignments in a shorter amount of time.

The fact that I couldn’t move back to Park and rejoin my old classmates also lessened my desire to maintain a social life. I even chose to attend Park’s Homecoming instead of Harding’s. Except deep down I knew that I wasn’t part of that world anymore. I was merely intruding.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in my Spanish class when I received a slew of Snapchats for a panoramic senior picture taken at Park. The entire day, one thought would not escape my head.

“I’m supposed to be in that picture.”

I should have been standing next to my friends, heading into an exciting, new chapter of our lives together. The feeling of nostalgia and loneliness set in deep.


If I don’t receive the IB diploma, big deal, right?

At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. As long as I tried my best.

To me, the ramifications are much bigger than not receiving a piece of paper. It would mean failure. That all my doubters were right.

I’ll have let myself down.

I try to keep this possibility as far away from my mind as I can. Instead, I focus on the good stuff—that yes, at this very moment I am on track to receive my IB diploma.

All the papers and projects, the starting and re-starting of my extended essay, getting my CAS activities established, trying to meet all my normal graduation requirements—the obstacles in my journey have only just begun.

But enough self-reflection.

Test dates are coming in March and it’s time to get studying. Good luck to all the other IB diploma candidates in the 3,661 schools all over the world.


According to its website, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is designed to address the intellectual, social, emotional and physical well-being of students, ages 16 to 19, as they seek higher education. Beyond curriculum, its core is centered on three parameters:

• The extended essay asks students to engage in independent research through an in-depth study of a question that relates to one of their IB Diploma subjects.

Theory of knowledge unifies academic disciplines and asks students to examine the “nature of knowing.”

Creativity, action, service (CAS) involves a range of activities alongside student academic studies. Creativity encourages students to engage in the arts; action seeks to develop a healthy lifestyle through physical activity; and service offers community learning with new academic value.

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