A few weeks ago I was driving home from work and I passed by my old high school. I rolled down my car window and breaking the stiffness in the southern California dry heat was the echo of names being announced, and faint cheers. It was graduation. I counted backwards and realized that exactly four years ago, I was sitting in those same plastic seats on that same turf, knowing that this moment was the beginning, and end, to life as I knew it.
For the most part, that thought was true. In exactly the same length it took me to get through high school with as little causalities as possible, my entire being had changed. I moved across the country, I grew up, made new friends, lost a fair number of old. Changed directions, changed mindsets, then when I thought I found solid ground, changed again. The person I was in that cap and gown would not only be surprised with the person she became, but also proud. Her ditched classes, bad boy choices, bad attitudes, and claimed heartbreaks have all become something of a distant memory – sometimes even seemingly imaginary.
As I smiled at the excitement and fear vibrating from the stadium as I passed, I thought of all the things I would tell those graduates, if I got the chance.
I would tell them to take all of the plans they think they have for their lives and throw them away. Toss them out, kick them to the side, take no refuge in your to-do list; it will fail. But I would let them know that it will fail in the most successful way, if they let it. That if they are graceful and motivated, if they work hard and carry an unshakeable hope, their lives will prove to be so much more than the small plans they etched out on the walls of the rooms that confined them.
My mind then wandered into telling them that high school was not the be all end all to life, and when they toss up their caps, they should make sure to tack on all of their heart ache, rejection, and losses along with it, because real life doesn’t work the way those 6 periods taught you it does.
But I stopped in my own tracks and thought…is that true?
Dealing with my own set of mean girls who were never taught to face their insecurities, but to rather project them on to someone else, and boys who’s ego’s wont allow them to learn how to be men, I wondered if high school is so much a stepping stone in life, or rather a foundation in which life is set.
Do we ever truly graduate?
I had a pretty picture perfect high school career. As much as one can have, I suppose. Now that I look at it all in retrospect, “picture perfect” and “high school” just seem like an oxymoron now. But as far as high school goes, I sat fairly pretty in comparison to most teenagers. Cool, I was not. Embraced, however, most definitely. Yet still, to this day, you could not pay me to go back to those four years of little hell. Not because I was treated badly. I mean sure I got bullied, but really in high school, who didn’t? Everyone faced their own form of persecution. But it wasn’t the stoning that makes me shutter at the thought, but rather the pressure of acceptance. That’s all high school is, really – a bunch of kids with awkward bodies and confusing emotions that are desperately trying to hide their cracked surfaces and misshapen angles in hopes someone, anyone, will like them – or better yet, want to be them.
I’m not sure who dictates what “cool” is, but without fail fitting in hovers over each campus like a dark grey cloud, orchestrating a symposium of insecurities. And four years ago, I thought I left that world driven by self-hatred behind.
To my disappointment, I have learned a very important lesson:
Leaving high school does not necessarily mean high school has left you.
One of the most dangerous errors we can make in life is mistaking change for growth. Thinking that because our physical circumstances have changed, then we too have developed.
One of the fastest growing plants is the weed. Its roots can spread vastly, pushing through rocks, concrete, and asphalt over night. But the thing about weeds is that even though they are constantly physically adapting and changing, the only purpose they serve is to block sunlight and steal nutrients from other plants around them, stunting their growth.
We do not marvel at the weed because of its ability to expand – so why do we give so much significance to our own inevitability of change? Who said once we looked different, or moved away we would be better people? Who made us believe that because we learned to dress nicer or speak more intelligently that we have become kinder, or more secure?
Recently I found myself in a situation that found me in the same vulnerability 9th through 12th grade left me in. my first instinct was to be cruel. My second instinct was to crumble. But I stopped, and I thought to myself, is it these people who are refusing to accept me, or is it me who is refusing to accept myself? As I felt the twinge of pain surge through my body that every popular boy in high school left me with when they ignored me and every mean girl jabbed in to me when they giggled at my expense – I wondered how many people I have left with the same bitter taste in their mouths that I was now, at 23, tasting yet again. I wondered how many times I was the mean girl, how many scars I left from stabbing others with the sharp ends of my insecurities. And I wondered who it was that hurt these people enough to make them want to inflict as much pain as they had to once feel.
But more than anything, I wondered why it has taken us all so long to let it go.
I left social media a few months ago, and don’t intend to return. I think it is a poisonous place that thrives off of desperately longing for acceptance. And in that desperation sprouts anger and jealousy, and lie after lie. We stalk the people we hate in hopes we catch a glimpse of proof that we are doing better. We edit and crop and photoshop our lives and selves because we don’t feel good enough as is, yet want other people to tell us we are. It’s this cycle that breeds mean girls, and popular boys, and jocks, and loners.
But, today I thought to myself, just like graduation, does anything actually change because I physically removed myself? Do I like me anymore now that I’m gone?
I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that God has put me in a really good place to find out.
If you know me at all, then you know I cant learn a life lesson without sharing it with as many people who will listen. So this is me sharing with you.
High school is a place that encloses large amounts of teenagers who haven’t learned to love themselves, or trust themselves, or accept themselves. It is an arena for warriors, with swords made out of insults, and shields made up of gossip, who only started fighting in order to survive. It is an amphitheater of doubt, projecting on loud speakers each and every one of our flaws, for everyone to hear. High school was a place that tattooed our worth on to our foreheads – and all of us felt worthless.
My hope is that you all stop in your tracks sometime soon and ask yourselves the same question I did today:
Are you still in high school?
I for one can proudly say, finally say, I am not.