My 4th grade book club is reading Stargirl, as I have mentioned previously. At this point in the novel, Leo, the narrator, has to choose between the affection of his girlfriend Stargirl and the “affection” of the rest of the school, comprised of a student body who is shunning them. I wonder how much my 4th graders connect to the social universe that is high school, but today one of my boys said, “I think he’ll choose ‘them,’ but he’ll regret not choosing Stargirl.” Then one of my girls chimed in and said, “Maybe things in high school seem like a big deal, and then later on you look back and laugh at it.” My response: “Ah, yes. That’s what we call having perspective.”
Just tonight we went to Husband’s high school alma mater to catch a basketball game. There were lots of parents, teachers, and fans from both schools, and there were the requisite cheerleading squads, students wanting to look cool in front of other students but acting like they weren’t trying too hard to be cool, and the athletes themselves, of course. It was, in fact, a good game, and it was so odd to be on the other side of being a teenager, when I played varsity volleyball and spent so much time with my regular high school crew. Maybe only odd because I don’t teach high school and don’t have any high school age kids playing; Husband and I only attended as spectators.
I do have great affection for my high school years, truly. I loved my teachers — they are a huge reason why I became a teacher — and wearing a uniform at Catholic school is comforting. It requires no thought process on a daily basis, and it certainly did its job of leveling out the social playing field and helping us girls to focus on the academics, athletics, and other extracurriculars we were working on at school. I absolutely loved attending an all-girls school, too; to this day I still feel empowered by that experience.
I look at high school kids now and recognize that they’re all going through the same sort of emotional roller coaster of adolescence that we all experienced to varying degrees. All I hope for them is that they learn to enjoy being young. High school lasts a measly four years, and there are a million years to follow when they have to grow up and act like adults. It’s so startling to me when I see sixth graders who have the bodies of ninth graders and hang out with high school kids. I just want to grab them and say, “It’s okay to be little. Don’t be in such a rush to grow up…” I look back upon my high school life, and I’m glad that I was a late bloomer. I’m glad that I experienced the glory of varsity volleyball and the unique geeky joy of playing in the school orchestra. I’m glad that my mom made me get a job as soon I was of age and could drive myself to work. I’m glad that my school lived out a value of community service. I’m glad that we were a community of faith.
All of those pieces of High School Me are still very much a part of who I am, but I never wish that I could re-live that time. I like being a grown up who can honor my past and who knows that the best is yet to come. Adult Me knows the value of having an opportunity in schools now to pay it forward.