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The Sharks at HSSP

By Rohini Josh

The author provided this incredible art of a Mako shark!

When I first heard about HSSP’s shark theme, I thought it had nothing to do with the actual program. To me, ‘Highly Self-similar Sharks on a Plane’ just seemed like a funny acronym with no real significance. However, I’ve come to realize that HSSP students have a lot in common with sharks!

Sharks are cartilaginous fish which are often grouped under the clade Selachimorpha. Sharks are incredibly diverse, with over 500 species differing in size, shape and habitat. From the familiar lemon shark to the mysterious goblin shark, each species of shark is unique.

Similarly, each student at HSSP is unique. In a single class, you may encounter students of different ages, cultures, and backgrounds. Since HSSP is online this year, we have the opportunity to meet students from other states or even countries. Yet, just as sharks have a few key similarities (such as replaceable teeth and denticle-covered skin), HSSP students also have several shared characteristics.

HSSP students are versatile, like Bull sharks. Bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are unique because they are capable of living in both freshwater and saltwater. This is possible because they have kidneys and glands that can maintain the molarity of their blood even in freshwater. As a result, Bull Sharks can be found in oceans, rivers, and even lakes. In the same way, HSSP students adapt easily to new material and new technologies. Although HSSP couldn’t be held offline, students transitioned to online learning with applications like Zoom or Vevox.

However, regardless of the subject of the class, HSSP students are active and engaged, just like Mako sharks. Shortfin Mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) are the fastest sharks, reaching speeds of up to 60 mph and leaping up to 20 ft above the ocean surface. Similarly, HSSP students are very active learners. In class, we’re always encouraged to ask thought-provoking questions. Even when they derail the class from its curriculum, we welcome the opportunity to learn about something new!

Tiger Sharks, like HSSP students, are also willing to try new things. Tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) are known for their willingness to try to eat anything from stingrays and turtles, to pieces of boats and other man-made items. While HSSP students (probably) only eat edible things, they are willing to try new things like Tiger sharks. This is reflected in HSSP’s diverse course offerings, which range from linguistics to linear algebra.

The friends we make at HSSP are another valuable part of the experience. In this sense, HSSP students are like Blacktip Reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) and Whitetip Reef sharks (Triaenodon obesus). These sharks are some of the most social sharks. They often spend time with other sharks of the same species and cooperate to hunt. Blacktip Reef sharks in particular get more confident and excited when in large groups. Like these sharks, HSSP students help each other out by sharing notes and knowledge. Throughout these six weeks, I also hope to be able to forge lasting friendships with my classmates like a Reef shark.

The similarities between HSSP students and sharks show that this year’s theme goes beyond an acronym- it’s a fun representation of the students themselves. By attending HSSP and researching these sharks, I’ve come to see that the students at HSSP are the true embodiment of Highly Self-similar Sharks on a Plane.

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