An Homage to the High School Experience

If someone would have told 17-year-old me that I would be writing an article in sorority letters, I would have laughed the entire way to my varsity debate tournament. Despite what you may have said senior year, high school really did feel like it would never end. I thought I would always have my teenage acne – including the gigantic pimple on my chin my friends endearingly tagged in Facebook pictures as “Pablo.” Life would always be filled with curfews, report cards, and waiting in existential crisis for college acceptance letters. Teachers would always be the ones to dismiss you, not the bell. Classrooms would always be distracted by your bare shoulders. Dates would always be forced to meet your parents because you lived at home. Young adulthood would never begin because you were always going to be a teenager.

Miraculously, life didn’t end at graduation. I remember getting my diploma and curiously watching the sky to see when the credits would start rolling. The scene didn’t fade to black where I was assumed to live out the rest of my life working with my passions and marrying my true love. In fact, the road to adulthood thus far has been filled with everything but simplicity. In the short two years that I’ve experienced college life, things have never been more complicated. It turns out sometimes you take a class and realize you were meant for a completely different major. Dating isn’t just sitting at the same table at lunch and meeting up to exchange a kiss in the hallway. You must branch out to meet friends because most likely you won’t be in the same classes with them five days a week.

In short, there are things everyone secretly misses about the high school experience.

That isn’t to say that I enjoyed high school. In fact, the act of being a high school student wasn’t anything I had remotely mastered after four years. I took AP-level classes that were completely out of my league. My poor time management left me on four hours of sleep most days, and weekend nights were filled more with cramming for tests than having an actual social life. I’ve only stayed in contact with a handful of high school friends because it turns out when you don’t see someone every day, your friendship may be built more on convenience than common interests.

When I think of high school, I think of how small my world used to be. My life revolved around prepping for varsity debate tournaments and swearing that my place was among books instead of parties. I worked in my school’s television production studio editing and producing because I wanted to be a famous director. My wardrobe consisted of black t-shirts with movie quotes and denim jeans, with the occasional dark-colored dress thrown in when I forgot to do laundry.

As a sophomore in college, obviously a lot has changed since I was part of anything with the word varsity in the title. I realized that interests can be intersectional. I could still listen to classic rock on my record player as a sorority girl. I could be just as excited for an indie film festival as I was about a fraternity party. And while I’ll never be the next Spielberg, I’m still on track for becoming one badass journalist with a deep passion for storytelling.

I know I’m not the only one who has looked back on their high school experience with a more mature perspective and realized it wasn’t as bad as it seemed those many years ago. When that phase in our life is no longer fresh in our hearts, there is a lot to be said about being a high school student. And that is why this article is a tribute to all the things we took for granted back when we were young, naïve, and seventeen.

This is an homage to the little adventures we took. We played music from ten years ago and called it a throwback. Our cars were always low on gas with the air conditioning broken. Like the cast of a bad early-90s sitcom, we crowded obscure coffeehouse couches with our drinks poured in plastic cups. We discussed the literature being taught in our English classes as if we were the most well-rounded people on Earth; as if “The Great Gatsby” had never been dissected with such caliber.

Sorry parents, but sometimes we skipped school under the impression that you actually had no idea. It is amazing how many high schoolers you can fit in the backseat of a truck on the way to the beach.

Our parties were held with adults hiding in their bedrooms and, to our embarrassment, creeping downstairs every so often to “grab a quick snack, also tell your friends to get their shoes off my couch.”

The deepest conversations were the ones we had directly after school. When someone offered us a ride home, somehow we always ended up spending hours in the school parking lot. Everything we said within the four walls of that car was sacred. Our stomachs ached from laughing. Our cheeks stung from the tears. Then we had to call our parents in a panic because we were late coming home and were probably lying face down in a ditch.

We had to make our own fun with the part-time wages we had to our names. Open mics. Movie nights. Volunteerism. We joined clubs just to put on our high school resumes, and ended up spending more time with its members skipping the meetings than actually participating. Boredom led us on the craziest journeys. We spent hours at art museums and public parks not because we felt like learning, but because we had a thirst for experience. We stored names like Michelangelo and Giacometti in the back of our minds and the images of priceless paintings in our hearts.

Time doesn’t exist when your head rests on a cold, vibrating bus window late at night. We cherished those off-key songs on the way to tournaments. We littered our beds with vending machine snacks and snuck pizza through the back of the hotel. Suddenly our team wasn’t an array of different cliques we only talked to during practice. We were all friends in sweatpants arguing who knew the most lyrics from “Stairway to Heaven.”

We captured these adventures on polaroid cameras strung up with cheap yarn above our beds. We pass those hole-in-the-wall eateries with pride; even when the FOR SALE sign hangs in the window. Those were our moments, and no one can take them away.

This is an homage to the actual friends we made. They weren’t the ones we studied for tests with, or the ones we chatted with during class, or the ones who we only saw on social media when they wrote “happy birthday” on our Facebook walls. Those friends were just fine for the classes we took with them or the clubs we met them in, but they aren’t anyone we keep in contact with today.

Our actual friends knew every crevice of our soul.

We came to them during the best of times because our successes were their triumphs as well. They were the first people we called after every first date. We showed them the texts from our crushes so they could decode their messages with the sleuth of Sherlock Holmes and write responses with the eloquence of Shakespeare. They not only knew what kind of partner was best for us, but they actually wanted us to find that person. We entrusted our hearts to boyfriends and girlfriends that came and went, but our friends were always there after the break-ups with ice cream and the occasional “I told you so.”

Our dreams were their dreams. It didn’t matter if we disagreed on everything from politics to the meaning of life. They supported every time we changed our career paths, or swore through ugly tears that we were finally going to drop out. We shared the same love for their passions as well. Even if we meant putting physical distance between us, we reveled in wherever life took them – from another state to a completely different country.

And oh, God were they there for us through the bad times. These weren’t the stressful periods right before a test or when we were feeling angst towards our parents. I’m talking about when the world was really coming down around us leaving debris of chaos and destruction in its wake. It was when we found ourselves choking out garbled words on the other end of the phone. This was when we were having the kind of existential crisis adults seem to forget exist as they age. Our fresh wounds hemorrhaged parts of our spirit that desperately needed to be contained. It was when we didn’t know how to grieve or mourn or process loss. It was after events that still shape us in to the people we are today.

Our actual friends knew exactly what to say. And on the rare occasion that they didn’t, they stroked our hair and reminded us that the sun would come up in the morning. We didn’t realize it then, but that kind of understanding slowly dies off the older you get. We will never love that unconditionally again. Our new friends will get our admiration and understanding, but they weren’t there for our first breakdowns. Because of that, we hold our high school friends in our hearts with a different kind of appreciation.

We still find ourselves talking about them. Sometimes it is an inside joke we don’t remember starting, or reference to a conversation we swear you just had to be there to get. While we don’t talk every day, we still send them a text every few months to catch up. Strangely, we can always pick up right where we left off.

This is an homage to the issues we thought mattered. We really did feel like high school would never end. However, this isn’t about actual trivial problems. We all knew peers who grossly obsessed over who to take to homecoming and where they would sit for lunch every day. I’m talking about the problems that left us crying into our pillows at night. The issues that made us want to skip town and change our names.

There were plenty of unreciprocated romantic feelings. Whether our crushes didn’t feel the same way when we finally confessed our emotions, or we went through a devastating break-up, everything in our hearts told us we would never find love again. It was foolish to not understand that there would be a multitude of people we would meet in our lifetime and realize that we would find someone perfectly compatible. Instead we agonized over how many text messages we could send without sounding too desperate.

We tried to mold ourselves into cliques. We didn’t understand that interests could intersect each other; that no one deserves squeeze in to the small, slender size of stereotype. If we liked one style of music, we needed to dress to fit that mold. It may have been more of an early high school idea, but still haunted us as we reached our final years on campus. We were afraid to discuss passions we had when our friends adamantly expressed disinterest in them. Our clothing matched the company we kept. Our teenage hearts wanted to stand out, but our teenage egos kept us from blossoming.

There are insecurities that have still carried over into adulthood, but we can now dissect them logically. We’ve grown to understand it is rare to find your soulmate before you get your license. And when someone doesn’t understand our worth, we have enough self-respect to move on. Our pillows are now mostly stained from the tears of a college student reminding themselves of their debt.

This is an homage to the high school experience. It was a whirlwind of self-discovery, even though at our age we continue to change and grow. At its early stages, we were deeply engrossed in the novelty of it all. Suddenly we were individuals who could choose their own schedules, set their own paths, and form their own opinions. Towards the end we were desperate for the final freedom graduation would bring. We had experienced all we could from those adolescent years, and developed a thirst for new adventures outside of our campus walls.

Whether this article finds you as a freshman in college still Skyping your old friends every night, or a veteran adult who can only view your 17-year-old self through sepia photographs, your time in high school helped shape you in to the person you are still learning to become. The memories you had in your favorite classes, the clubs you joined or even helped found, and the curfews you rebelliously ignored were more than a sweeping statement. You cannot say you hated or loved high school without dissecting each experience. Each late-night call to your best friend. First kiss. Aced test. Devastating heartbreak.

Song blasting in your car, windows down, friends singing along.


Images: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6