Gather round, boys and girls. Today we’re doing to talk about a subject near and dear to my heart: the absurdity of alphabetical order and its use in every school I’ve ever encountered.
As a W myself (my last name is Watson), I’ve been on the receiving end of some serious school-related stupidity. As a Watson, I’ve been on the receiving end of hundreds of Sherlock Holmes puns made by acquaintances who think they’re being unbelievably clever – but that’s another article.
I know what you’re thinking: “Beth, c’mon. Preferential treatment based on surname? No way is that a real thing.” And to you, I say it absolutely is.
My fellow Ws, Xs, Ys, and Zs, you understand my struggle. From our very first day of preschool, when we scampered into the classroom, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we’ve been shoved unceremoniously into the back of the class thanks to our little friend called “alphabetical order.”
By kindergarten, we became aware that this was going to a regular occurrence. Preschool was only the beginning – we were going to be subject to this ridiculous organization system for the rest of our earthly days.
But how exactly did constantly sitting in the cheap seats affect our classroom experience? To start, whenever our teachers would pull out our class’ history textbook or current novel for some out-loud in-class reading, guess who got to read the least number of lines? The kids stuck at the bottom of the pecking order.
We had to sit there listening to every Anderson, Bates, and Crawford read sentence after choppy sentence, while we were lucky to even get a crack at the two-sentence-long concluding paragraph.
When it came to actually learning material, we were lucky if the teacher ever got to answer our questions – and who could blame her? We could hardly be seen over the dozens of ponytails and fauxhawks in front of our faces.
The other kids toward the back of the classroom were constantly getting up to ridiculous shenanigans (sans-teacher supervision), which we had to suffer through. Spit balls, paper planes – you name it, we had to pull it out of our hair all while trying to learn our times tables and color wheels.
We spent so long with those hooligans on the classroom’s outer edges that our attention spans were shot. I mean, when you’re that far away from the multiplication tables being mapped out on the board, the littlest distraction can yank you right out of your zone and into a game of tick-tack-toe or cootie catchers you never wanted to join in the first place.
And what’s every teacher’s excuse for this ludicrous seating arrangement? “It helps me learn your names faster.” Tell that to kids you never seem to notice take your class.
Naturally, our teachers got around to learning our names last. We were essentially without identity for weeks. WEEKS.
But sometimes we came across a teacher who rejected alphabetical order and saw it for the monstrosity that it was… and you better believe that we clung to them like Rose to the door of the Titanic.
But as most teachers embraced the archaic system wholeheartedly, we had to get crafty, feigning poor eyesight or hearing to weasel our way up to our rightful place at the front of the class.
And this absurdity didn’t end at the classroom door. Don’t even get me started on the countless graduations and award ceremonies, where we end-of-alphabeters were treated as nothing but barriers to the free food after the event.
As the first thirty or so names were called up, the audience would roar with applause, filling the auditorium with noise loud enough to shatter the sound barrier. Standing ovations and air horns made their usual appearances and joy was had by all.
But by the time the good ol’ Wilsons, Watkins, and Watsons took the stage for their diploma (which was EXACTLY THE SAME as the Andersons’ and the Barkleys’, mind you), the applause had dwindled to the pathetic patter of a few palms. Honestly, the best we could hope for was some enthusiastic clapping from our parents, if that.
(A note to you early-alphabeters out there: if you could do us the smallest courtesy of picking up the enthusiasm toward the end of the long list of surnames, we’d appreciate it beyond measure.)
Waiting in lines? An experience we know deeply and intimately. Whether it was for yearbook photos, our checkup with the school nurse, our trek to the cafeteria, or our walk out to recess, you can bet our teachers relied on handy-dandy alphabetical order to line us up.
(Speaking of yearbooks, it’s pretty easy to find us – we’re usually stranded on our own, the solitary photo on the last page of the class.)
And we could never seem to hold the attention of the room when we presented our carefully crafted PowerPoints on the fourth day of class presentations.
All the people who had gone on day one would sit there, front and center, whining and complaining.
Let’s face it: even our teachers were dead bored by the time we got up to the front of the class to deliver the 23rd presentation on the settlement of the American West.
Think this madness ends once we leave school? Think again. Studies have shown that those of us with surnames at the end of the alphabet are more likely to be first in line for a sale or new Apple gadget, because hey, it’s fun to come first in something.
And while our fellow As, Bs, and Cs are walking around the office like they own the place…
…other studies show that us Ws, Xs, Ys, and Zs are feeling pretty down about ourselves (y’know, after coming last in everything since the dawn of creation).
In fact, the only means of escape from this absurd treatment is to marry up. Up higher in the alphabet, that is. And even then, that avenue of escape is only available to us ladies.
But to all the end-of-alphabeters out there, I say enough. It’s time we realized just how fabulous we can be.
It’s time to celebrate our victories, no matter how small.
It’s time to assert ourselves and our talent at work and in the classroom.
And it’s time to live up to the examples of the most successful of our set. Looking at you, Emma. Looking at you.
It’s time to rock on, Ws. We may go through our entire adolescence under-appreciated, but I think we all know that a healthy sense of righteous indignation can be a fantastic motivator – even if only to be the first to get our hands on the latest iPhone.