What Happens in High School…The True Distance Between Things

Me, then

I’m sure you’ll find this impossible to believe, but when I was in high school, I was NOT a cheerleader, or a basketball star, or on the homecoming court (in fact, to this day, I’m not entirely sure what homecoming is all about). Don’t get me wrong — I did plenty of things. Orchestra. National Honor Society. French Club. Class Valedictorian. But those things that most people consider cool? Not so much. And because of that, I often felt like I was on the outside, looking in — like there was an insurmountable distance between me and the kids who were the stars of high school. That I would never — could never — be just like them.

When I left for college, one of the things I was excited about was that I wouldn’t have to face the reality of that insurmountable distance any longer. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?) What I wasn’t prepared for was the realization that the distance I despaired over was really less about reality than about perception. And yet, that’s exactly what has happened.

Something happened a few months ago that really drove this home for me. I was standing in the security line at the Philadelphia airport, about to fly out for a speaking engagement. Up in front of me, I saw someone who looked familiar. It took a minute, but then I realized I was looking at a blast from the past.

Me, now

Years ago, back in high school, there was a guy who was the consummate high school star. He was good looking, played three different sports, had been recruited by a gazillion colleges long before his senior year. And he was even fairly smart (I remember that he cheated off me in a few classes, which means he was in my advanced classes). I didn’t have a real crush on him, but it’s probably fair to say that neither I nor any other girl in my class would have said no if he wanted a prom date (for the record, he didn’t ask me). And that guy — who was the furthest away of that distant crowd of stars — was standing right in front of me.

And you know what? He looked completely normal.

I remember he was with his family, a wife and a gaggle of kids. They had on a bunch of Disney gear and were probably on their way to Florida for a family vacation — the same vacation I’ve taken my family on. If I hadn’t looked twice, I would never have noticed that he had been one of my classmates. And even looking twice, I couldn’t tell if he was a doctor, or a plumber, or a teacher, or a contemporary sculptor. He just looked like a regular person. A regular person, just like me.

As cool as it was to realize that the distance between me and Mr. High School was nonexistent, do you know what was cooler? This ordinary-looking guy — with kids tugging at his rumpled T-shirt, with wrinkles and slightly thinning hair, who looked like he could use an extra hour of sleep and an extra hour at the gym — this guy looked happy. Really, really happy.

Somehow, Mr. High School and I ended up in the same place. Because I’m pretty ordinary. I’ve got wrinkles and slightly thinning hair. I could use an extra hour of sleep and a couple extra hours at the gym. And I’m happy. Really, really happy.

Maybe I was never on the outside in high school. Maybe, just maybe, the circle was bigger than I let myself believe it was. Or maybe, it doesn’t matter, because life is long, and we all get there.

7 comments on “What Happens in High School…The True Distance Between Things

  1. Anna J. Boll says:

    Love this. I think it is so true that often the circle is bigger than we let ourselves believe. That we convince ourselves that we don’t fit for whatever reason (self-doubt, etc.). It really does get better as we become more confident and positive.

  2. That’s so true. I watched a guy from the popular crowd actually cry at our graduation, and I couldn’t believe it. I had spent most of high school feeling like I was on the outside looking in, and I couldn’t wait for college where I could go in with no stereotypes attached to me. No one would know me. But in the end, it’s all about perception, and it’s best not to let your own perceptions of what other people think of you frame your life, because those perceptions really can’t define you unless you let them.

  3. sudiptabq says:

    I’ve always been grateful that high school didn’t represent the best years of my life — because the truth is that every year has been better than the previous one, and I’d like to think that the best is yet to come.

  4. I agree! I was right there in the nerdy not cool boat with you, but once you have aged a few years, you realize that all of the petty stuff that concerned us in HS just doesn’t matter any more. We get married, have a couple kids, and then all (nerdy and cool alike!) struggle to help them not be bothered by all of the stuff that bothered us in school!

  5. […] spring of 1993. I was a junior in high school, and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. After all, high school wasn’t awful for me, but it wasn’t great either. But there was one truly awful part of high school: gym […]

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