When Elizabeth Holmes was just 19, she dropped out of Stanford to create a startup. After 10 years of minimal return on her work, her Palo Alto based company Theranos began receiving widespread fame and funding for her groundbreaking technology that supposedly performed a wide range of tests with just a drop of a patient’s blood. Theranos soon skyrocketed to a $9 billion valuation and Forbes magazine dubbed her “the next Steve Jobs” as one of the youngest female, self-made billionaires in the world. 

Holmes achieved the remarkable levels of acclaim that so many Silicon Valley teens aspire to achieve. However, Theranos’s illusion of success was shattered when company whistleblowers leaked information that proved the entire company and product was a lie; the technology did not exist. The company went bankrupt, and Holmes was investigated on counts of conspiracy and defrauding investors.

“I think that money and fame was actually a big part of the equation,” Palo Alto High School junior Miriam Wells said. “She [Holmes] gained a lot of media attention from this [Theranos], and she made a lot of money from this … because she was getting such positive attention. I think that she was just even more encouraged to keep going with the project.”

Wells continued.

“I think that especially in Silicon Valley, results are really praised and not necessarily the hard work that people have done to get there,” Wells said. “So when Elizabeth Holmes was showing  wild results without any proof of the hard work that she had done … people were really blinded by the fact that she was giving you these really positive results.”


“I think that especially in Silicon Valley, results are really praised and not necessarily the hard work that people have done to get there,”

— Miriam Wells, junior


Holmes was convicted on four counts of defrauding investors and will be sentenced in late September. 

The culture of praising success no matter how it is achieved in Silicon Valley, however, does not end with businesses and startups. According to an anonymous survey of 237 Paly students conducted by Verde Magazine from Jan. 26 to Jan. 31, 87.3% of students said that they feel significant pressure to succeed academically. 

“What she [Elizabeth Holmes] did was not acceptable, prioritizing the end result over the means,” Paly junior Justin Gu said. “I think that happens a lot in Silicon Valley and at Paly. People use unethical means to get good grades.”

Paly student Liam, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said he cheated on several assignments and tests in order to succeed academically.

“Looking back, I’ve never thought about whether it [cheating] is a right or wrong thing,” Liam said. “It’s more of a, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do this without cheating.’” 

Pressure to measure up to those around him contributed to his decision to cheat, although at the cost of unethical actions, according to Liam.

“I have a lot of friends who go to private schools and better schools than me,” Liam said. “I was embarrassed to show my grades to them because they weren’t as good as theirs. I felt the need that I had to perform really well in school to even compare to my friends.”


“Looking back, I’ve never thought about whether it [cheating] is a right or wrong thing. It’s more of a, ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to do this without cheating.’”

— Liam, student


Junior Kyle Park said despite the reach of success-oriented culture at Paly, surrounding himself with honest, hard-working peers has allowed him to avoid slipping into the world of academic dishonesty exploited by some of his fellow classmates.

“All my friends around me are always really working hard, so I think my environment has a lot to do with not participating in that kind of [dishonest] culture,” Park said.

Park said he believes students who pursue success in high school through unethical means will, ironically, struggle more to find success in the future.

“I’m not a very quick learner, but having a work ethic makes everything so much easier,” Park said. “Learning to build those skills in high school was super beneficial, so I know someone who doesn’t do that and doesn’t have that integrity is going to have a hard time in college.”


“All my friends around me are always really working hard, so I think my environment has a lot to do with not participating in that kind of [dishonest] culture.”

— Kyle Park, junior


Daniel Nguyen, who teaches honors math classes known for being academically challenging, echoed Liam’s statements regarding the source of the pressure students face.

“Unfortunately, it [cheating] is a side effect of being competitive,” Nguyen said. “It’s a side effect of students pushing themselves to prioritize the numerical grade result as opposed to the learning.”

History teacher Jack Bungarden also sees the competitive atmosphere at Paly.  

“The competition shows up in other ways, but with all due respect, I think it’s community-driven,” Bungarden said. “It’s student-driven.”


“Unfortunately, it [cheating] is a side effect of being competitive. It’s a side effect of students pushing themselves to prioritize the numerical grade result as opposed to the learning.”

— Daniel Nguyen, teacher


Many students believe that being high achieving in high school corresponds to success later in life and therefore, give grades a lot of weight. 

“I think a lot of it does come from students trying to push themselves to try harder [and] maybe over-prioritizing the idea that they have to get into this one or two or three colleges in order to be happy,” Nguyen said. 

Another factor that heavily influences stress at Paly is the feeling of needing to measure up to standards placed by parents upon students.

“It’s tough,” Nguyen said. “A lot of your parents are very successful for the most part, and that builds a lot of pressure because you want to be as successful as them and it’s hard because your parents are the cream of the crop.”


It’s tough. A lot of your parents are very successful for the most part, and that builds a lot of pressure because you want to be as successful as them and it’s hard because your parents are the cream of the crop.”

— Daniel Nguyen, teacher


Liam said a large source of his stress comes from wanting to live up to his parents’ expectations and success. 

“My dad never did really well in high school, but he ended up going to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and I don’t know if I could ever get into a school like that,” Liam said. “He really wants me to do better than he did and because he didn’t have that many options growing up as he wasn’t that fortunate, but I am fortunate and that sucks because even though I really want to make my dad proud of me and do better, I just can’t.”

Though the overwhelming stress Liam experiences trying to live up to impossibly high expectations may be shared by many Paly students, Park says that even so, many students still behave honestly and more could be incentivized to remain honest with a change in  culture. 

“I feel like you’d have to actually change the environment to change the way that these students’ minds are working,” Park said. “But I think the vast majority of Paly doesn’t cheat.”