On the first day at my new school, I was convinced that I did not really—could not possibly—want to go there. I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t an elitist. I didn’t want to go to an Ivy League. I despised everything “preppy.” My mom is a public school teacher, and I had always looked down upon private school kids; did they think they were too good for schools like mine? Yet somehow, I found myself here: about to start freshman year of high school at a traditional, somewhat prestigious, private, all-girls, K-12 institution.
My neighborhood public high school was underfunded and not academically rigorous. But I had always enjoyed school, learning, and being challenged daily. On a whim, my parents and I decided to visit some private schools, and I realized how many more opportunities I would have there: amazing theatre and music programs, AP classes, smaller class sizes, and excellent preparation for college. The application process was incredibly stressful for me at the time. I had to do my first interview ever and write about myself and my goals, topics I had barely thought about up until that point in my life (If only I knew what the college process would be like…). But I was accepted, complete with a box of confetti in my school colors and a variety of school merch.
I started watching Gilmore Girls the summer before freshman year. As Rory Gilmore frolicked around in her newly purchased school uniform and declared, “I love being a private school girl!,” I decided I was going to force myself to enjoy my new school, no matter what. After all, it was costing my parents money. And it was kind of glamorous, in the least punk rock way possible.
So, when the day came, I frantically Googled, “advice for switching schools,” “tips for going to a new school,” and “weird things about all-girls schools,” to limited success. (Gilmore Girls, while entertaining, had not provided much real-world advice.) I nervously pulled on my plaid skirt, oxford shirt, crested cardigan, and knee socks. I had bought the expensive backpack and shoes that were part of the implicit dress code, that I noticed all the other girls wearing when I visited months earlier. But even with my uniform and my shoes and my backpack, I had that sinking feeling that everyone knew I was a poser.
At my old school, I felt too snooty and too nerdy, but at my new school, I felt poor and stupid. The long halls were a sea of unfamiliar sights: braided ponytails, Tiffany necklaces, giant pearl earrings, Lululemon headbands. These were the things that girls used to distinguish themselves, and these were the things I decided I needed in order to belong. They talked about the Jeeps they wanted for their birthdays and the luxurious vacations they went on over the summer. (I watched the movie Lady Bird junior year and found it unbearably relatable.) Some girls’ families had classrooms or hallways or roundabouts named after them. The majority of my classmates had already been attending this school for several years, if not a decade. They knew what mitosis was. They knew how to write a well-developed essay with a strong thesis statement. They could introduce themselves in several languages. I felt like I was years behind. And then there were the strange, elaborate, almost-but-not-quite-religious ceremonies, programs, and chapels, complete with prayers, songs, and speeches about wisdom and friendship and the strength of women. Although they felt vaguely cult-like, I found myself enjoying them. There is nothing quite like the sound of 600 3-to-18-year-old girls singing in unison.
My first year was hard. I did fine in my classes, but I was not the stand-out student of years past. I often ate lunch alone, or worse, in silence at a table full of acquaintances. I realized then that I hadn’t made many new friends since kindergarten when saying “let’s be BFFs!” was considered a legitimate way to forge a friendship. But, as lots of time passed, my conversations grew less awkward, and I discovered that I had much more in common with my classmates than I previously believed. The all-girls environment created a community of students who participated enthusiastically in class, joined a million clubs and activities, asked for help when they needed it, and eventually became confident leaders. We knew that women could do anything. My self-esteem and confidence improved drastically. I realized that what people think of my appearance really doesn’t matter. I learned that it was okay to aim high. It was okay to fail. I can say with confidence that I probably wouldn’t be at Kenyon today if I had gone to a different high school—and not just because of the AP classes. My high school experience was definitely far from the norm, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
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