Guest Commentary: The ‘Rich Out’ broke my heart


Photo by Meagan Swartz

GBHS principal Jennifer Leighton

Jennifer Leighton, GBHS principal, Guest Commentary

There’s a fairly recent attempt by the Tribe to poke fun at the perception that Granite Bay High School is the rich school and Del Oro is the farm school when we meet for football.  Neither is true.   Our students call this the “Rich Out.”  And although meant in jest, it actually  reinforces a stereotype in the greater Sacramento community that Granite Bay kids are selfish, self-centered teenagers who have had everything handed to them on a platter.

Have we really thought about the message we are sending with the “Rich Out”?  Is that what we are proud of?  Being rich?  And, if so, is that something we’ve earned ourselves?  Something worthy of cheering for during a football game?  Is everyone at GBHS rich?  And how does this theme make those whose parents struggle to put food on the table each evening, live in a small apartment, rely on the Free Lunch program, work after-school jobs to keep their families afloat  … how does that make them feel?  Are we striving for inclusiveness or exclusiveness?  Most of our kids work incredibly hard to achieve.  It is actually an insult to them to suggest that money has anything to do with it.

Last week we pondered the Ripple Effect of showing kindness and lending a hand to others – of looking outside our own lives and seeing how we could make someone else’s life better.  We learned the incredible stories of three of our students who have struggled to face each day, and we saw tangible evidence of the grit it takes to survive tragedy, disappointment and loss.  And we celebrated Breaking Down the Walls and emphasized the inclusion of everyone – because we all have different struggles and stories and inner demons.  We all have hope that our nation, and our world, will lay aside differences and love each other as humans.  

At last month’s Leadership Summit, Dean Whellums asked the 95 leaders who represented more than 22 clubs and 20 athletic teams on this campus what some of the undesirable and “below-the-line” behaviors in The Tribe had been in the past.  The first thing mentioned by our students was the “Rich Out,” and a resounding “no” was heard from 95 leaders on our campus that this wasn’t how we want to represent ourselves. So as the big Del Oro game approached last week, our Tribe Leaders didn’t promote this theme at all. Yet, posters about the “Rich Out” popped up on campus regardless.  They were promptly removed.  On Friday night, at least half of our Tribe showed up in “rich” outfits – including students who are in leadership roles on this campus. I don’t think that our clubs and athletic teams feel that “Rich Out” is the way they want to be represented.

This is the email that athletic director Tim Healy wrote for me to send out on Friday afternoon.  I really thought that the “Rich Out” had been squelched, so I did not send this:

During the lead up to this week’s football game at Del Oro HS, many of our students have embraced a theme they are calling a “Rich-Out”. This is a play on the student’s normal theme of each game in which they attempt to foster unity and spirit. Previous themes have been a Tribe related “white out” (the color of their shirts), a pink-out (in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness), or a USA theme.  As an institution committed to being part of the process of fostering well-rounded people, we struggle with this recurring theme that pays homage to a stereotype that undermines the real greatness of so many of our students.    Money does nothing to define our worth as human beings; our character, humanity, self-reliance, and accomplishments are what set us apart.

How I wish I had sent that!

I was incredibly proud of the personal responsibility, respect, integrity, dignity, engagement – PRIDE – our more than 200-member Tribe showed both during the National Anthem and the flag-folding ceremony on Friday night. Furthermore, our players showed true grit and battled their way to an incredible victory – never giving up.  I was proud of our coaching staff and especially our head coach who showed guts with a risky call in the last two minutes that could have lost the game for us, but was instead carried out with fidelity by our boys and in fact sealed the win for us.  Hours and hours of focused practice prepare the team for moments such as that.  Finally, our band added an extra night out to their already packed schedule of performances and rehearsals to contribute music and energy to the evening, and as the football players and fans cleared the stadium after the game these devoted musicians played pep music together in harmony with the Del Oro band.  These are the qualities and behaviors I know our students display on a daily basis – and the ones worth celebrating

No matter the size of our bank accounts, that’s not what defines our success at GBHS.   It’s our quest for excellence, our hard work ethic, our engagement and ownership of our education, our respect for our differences as well as our similarities as human beings who each have a different story.  It’s the dignity and class we show whether we win or lose.  

The “Rich Out” broke my heart.  We are better than that.