Small golden stars have been appearing around Sequoyah’s high school – on floors, backpacks, faces, and even on bathroom walls. The exact total number of stickers around campus is unknown, but it is assumed to be in the hundreds, as people have been found covered head to toe in the stickers. Although the stickers now take the form of a friendly prank, their original purpose was to spread validation of identity. In fact, the story goes back all the way to elementary school.
According to Lauren Lee ’24, the original owner of the stickers, “The stickers were started with the memory of ‘good job’ stickers in elementary school.” Lee used to receive stickers from teachers for doing a good job, and they served as a physical form of validation. When asked about why she introduced the stickers to Sequoyah, she said, “I wanted to spread the feeling of validation and success to high school students, who could all use a sticker or two, as we don’t really get much validation or proof of success now that we have to be older teenagers with responsibilities.” She also noted, “I and many of my friends still associate small amounts of happiness and a feeling of prideful success with gold stars.”
The stickers originally were handed out one by one, but after Lee was approached by other students with requests for sticker sheets, the stars have spread exponentially. Prominent spreaders include Kiara Gamboa ’24 and Emily Hodges ’24, who still see that distributing stickers is synonymous with the original idea of distributing validation. When asked about their activities, Gamboa said “I love giving other people stickers because they either respond in one of two ways. Either it’s very much annoyed or they get really excited. […] And honestly, for the people who get annoyed, it’s like they’re […] resisting the validation and they just need to know that they are valid. So, if it takes one, two, ten million more stickers to […] make sure they know that they’re valid, then so be it.”
Spreading the stickers seems to be gratifying to both the receiver and the giver. Hodges gave her opinion on the matter, saying that she felt great when validating people as “it’s just nice to make other people happy ‘cause you know, it’s nice to give people stickers and make them feel like they’re valid. ‘Cause they are!” The sticker givers also appreciate receiving stickers, as “They’re fun stickers to have, and they’re just nice to have a little reminder that, y’know, someone cared enough to give me a sticker!” As Gamboa says, “spread stickers, not hate.”
On Friday, February 11th, the Theory Club, led by Gamboa and Lee, conducted a club activity where members ran around the school to different clubs to spread the stickers to their peers. They visited the DnD, Magic the Gathering, and the Zombie Apocalypse Survival clubs, spreading the stickers to students and faculty alike, leaving even more stars scattered around the campus by the group.
The question still remains: do the stickers work? Does seeing the stickers and knowing their purpose cause people to truly feel validated, or is the spread of golden stars not having its intended impact? The authors of this piece interviewed Ben Ede, the music teacher and a recipient of the golden stars, who said that “It took [him] back to…elementary school, when those sorts of things used to be given out, and so it felt kind of nice to get the stickers, and then it also felt kind of strange as an adult.” When asked about why it felt strange, he said that “when they were being passed out, people were saying ‘you’re valid,’ and I appreciated that – I like to hear those words – but […] it kind of made me think back to people out there for whom some sort of external validation is all they get to help them understand their own self-worth.” With regard to the motivation of the people who spread the stickers, Ede said that he thinks “either some point is being made about external validation or I think it’s people genuinely trying to make the Sequoyah community feel good with reminders that somebody’s thinking about them.”
As for the spread itself, the stickers seem to periodically surge and fall away; they are currently on the decline as the sticker supply has diminished. However, the physical remnants of gold stars and emotional reminders of validity will remain around the campus for a long time to come.