In less than a week, I will walk across a stage in front of a few thousand people and finally, finally, end my high school career. I'll take my diploma, look my principal in the eyes as I shake his hand and then walk away from it all, hoping to God I don't trip along the way.
I'm not feeling bittersweet about high school ending. I haven't cried, I haven't sat alone in my room blaring Regina Spektor to the loudest possible decibel just to block out every feeling of sadness. I won't miss it. In fact, I'm happier than ever that it's over.
Prior to actually entering high school, you're led to believe it's something like all of those teen movies. You think that when you enter the cafeteria, there's going to be a Janis Ian there to point out every single subgroup or an Ashley Tisdale scream-singing about the status quo. While that isn't necessarily what happens, ever, it's not too far from the truth.
High school is a hierarchy. It depends on the school, but there's always levels of popularity or coolness that people are going to strive for. At my high school, where the poverty level was minuscule and the racial diversity even tinier, the rich, WASP-y types were at the top. If you didn’t sport Vineyard Vines or Lilly Pullitzer, you just weren't good enough for a specific group of people. You’re expected to be pretty, rich and outgoing, and if you're not, you aren't really part of the school. You're an outsider.
If you're an outsider, you're either normal or you're weird and the labels stick throughout all four years. If you're normal, you're mostly ignored and if you're weird, then at best people are mildly friendly to you and at worst, you're teased behind your back. It's easy enough to point at the guy in the Ralph Lauren polo who's on the lacrosse team and know his name. But what about the girl who sews her own dresses or the guy who writes his own books? Why don't we care about them?
These social statuses are obvious. But here's the thing: no one talks about them. No one talks about their status in high school. People believe that because it's a stereotype, it doesn't exist. That there aren't real people who feel like they aren't good enough, whether it's because of their family's income, their race, their interests or even that they just don't want to spend their weekends getting wasted.
The hierarchy is essential to the way everyone socializes in high school. You either spend your time trying to get to the top, resenting it or staying ambivalent to it. And that’s not how you should be spending your four years, or even your last few days, of high school.
I don’t need Troy and Gabriella singing to me that we're "all in this together." I don’t need any kind of Disney Channel original movie to inspire me to love my fellow classmates. What I needed, what we need, is to acknowledge that the way we socialize in high school is flawed. When we ignore 80 to 90 percent of the student body because they aren’t friends with the right people, something is wrong.
The only way to enact change is to acknowledge the problem. When we recognize that there’s a hierarchy, that there’s a flawed system put in place by students who graduated years ago, then we can start to realize that we’re wrong. That we’ve been wrong this whole time. We can be “The Breakfast Club.” We can live the last five minutes of “Mean Girls.” We can recognize that, beneath the surface, there’s not a whole lot that makes us different. It’s that simple.
So, no, I’m not sad to be leaving high school. I’m not sad to leave behind the hierarchy and my perceived status. I won’t miss any of it. More than anything, I’m just ecstatic to soon be taking those steps across the stage at graduation. Because they’re the steps that will lead me to a future that’s brighter than ever.
Lead Image Credit: Carlos Martinez