Highlighter Elimination Is Quintessentially GDS

Highlighter Elimination sparks a discussion. Photo by Olivia Brown.

At any given moment during the next few weeks you may bear witness to a student sprinting through the hallways after another fleeing student, one with a highlighter brandished, and the other with the collar of their shirt hiked up to their ears in an effort to cover as much skin as possible.

Perhaps nothing is more quintessentially GDS than the annual game of Highlighter Elimination, formerly known as “Highlighter Assassin.” Highlighter is a relatively simple game. Students sign up, and, at the onset of the game, they are randomly assigned a target from the pool of other participants. Eliminations happen when the attacker makes an inch-long highlighter mark on the skin of their target. Targets, however, can protect themselves from attackers by proclaiming, “Highlighter, I see you,” after which there is a three-minute elimination-free cooldown period. When you eliminate someone, you assume their target.

Although it may at first glance appear to be a strange game, it carries with it sentiments of youthful fun, and acts as a means of injecting energy into sometimes monotonous school days. Attracting more than 300 players, Highlighter is full of people who plan to commit fully by changing all manner of behaviors. Outfits that cover all possible exposed skin are the norm, routes to classes change and capless highlighters can be seen in any hallway or stairwell while the game is happening.

The widespread buy-in to Highlighter illustrates the support students give to their peers in their pursuits. In other academic or social ecosystems, such a game might not exist or would struggle to garner such widespread participation and support. GDS students, taught how to communicate with one another and advocate for ourselves, are singularly suited to thrive in this game. Highlighter puts students in unlikely situations with people they wouldn’t normally talk to and encourages them to advocate for themselves in elimination disputes.

While our athletic events might not draw the largest crowds, we instead foster our sense of community through mutual interaction. Highlighter exemplifies GDS’ particular form of school spirit and pride. It feels like an inside joke that the entire high school is part of, and the spirit it creates is invaluable.

GDS frequently states its devotion to fostering a high school–wide community. However, students at GDS are separated by grade level. Each grade has a designated area of the Forum in which to sit, and students adhere strictly to the informal boundaries we have created for ourselves. Highlighter does not succumb to the artificial distance between grade levels, allowing it to create the communal environment that the school values so much. The game provides the opportunity to make numerous new connections across the high school community in the span of only a few days and creates a path to school-wide recognition merely through eliminating enough targets to occupy a place on the leaderboard.

Even the name of the game itself captures the essence of GDS. Alex Gerson, the student organizing the game, changed the name from “Highlighter Assassin” to something without reference to death after speaking with High School Principal Yom Fox. The instinct to soften the name epitomizes administrators’ tendency to account for any possible sensitivities.

I had intended to participate in Highlighter, but over the long weekend during which sign-ups closed, I neglected to check my email and did not sign up. I instead had the privilege of watching the game unfold from an outside perspective, and was still able to feel its impact on the school. I felt included in the game, and that is the true magic of Highlighter.