things I never understood about high school

Library_0083"So does everything seem smaller now?"  She meant my surroundings, being back in the hallway of my high school for the first time in thirteen years.  "Well your life sure has changed."  It has, and it hasn’t, but either way, I was there to talk about it.  "You know Stephanie, even after all this time, what I remember most is–here, sit with me."  This was coming from Faith, my English teacher from sophomore through senior year.  "You really did carry around the wrong impression of what people thought of you, and I worried you’d carry it still."  I do. 
"Well, don’t we all, Faith?  Isn’t that life?  Don’t we one day let ourselves feel something because of something someone else did or said to us, then spend our lives either believing it or trying to dispel it?"  She shook her head, agreeing. 
"They didn’t hate you, the kids; they were afraid of you."  She didn’t say that with words, but she said it just the same.
"I know, Faith.  Thank you.  "Things do seem smaller now."

It’s amazing that I can return to high school and have conversations like that, taking the "going back to high school" thing to the level you’d expect, to the drama and insight.  We hugged goodbye with promises of coffee and walking in the city together soon.  I hope that happens.

My other, kindred-spirited, English teacher Katy, who’d invited me to speak to the SWS community, then met me.  She and Rick (my director from my Oklahoma! days) hugged me and wanted to hear the details of my new life.  I held off until I was fastened to a podium in the front of the painted room. I didn’t know what I’d say.




"So how many of you know what a blog is?" then became, "well you know what MySpace is, right?"  Then they understood.  I was surprised so many of them didn’t know what a blog was.  It made me realize just how big and small blogging is.  It’s just like high school.  I was asked many questions about my life, and I answered honestly.  "No, I didn’t like high school.  I was miserable here, vocal, and miserable.  But when I left, I remembered the people, the stories, the time Josh Alpert brought a gas mask into the center ring of community sharing day.  So be nice to one another because you’re going to spend the rest of your life trying to get over everything that happens here.  Well, that, or you’ll write a book about it." 


"Stephanie, that was always a fear I had about you, that you’d never come into your own and know yourself, that you’d always rely on some guy to do it for you," Rick said as he hugged me goodbye.  It’s amazing that came through with my playing "The Girl Who Caiiin’t Say No" in Oklahoma!  "Amazing" is the wrong word.  "Fucking hysterical" works better.  Type-cast, certainly.  Now I’m the girl who can.  Who can live, really live, and know she’s okay without the guy.  Without having to relationship-hop.  Soon my talk with the students became a therapy 101 lecture class about self-esteem and the difference between talking about doing something and just doing it.  It was so Nike meets Freud.

Library_0077_2 Maybe I should have stuck to a list of things I never understood about high school:
I never understood why they had to weigh us, the meaning of "abstain" as a "not a no" in an SWS Wednesday meeting, why "there’s no running in the halls." ( Then quit trying to weigh us!)  Gym.  I never understood the importance or function of gym.  To me, if it was a gym day, it was a bad day.  The whole change in front of one another thing.  The inactive showers in the "shower room" where they stored kickballs.  Why we stopped playing kickball in high school.  Why our backpacks didn’t come with wheels.  How I ever made it without coffee. Why the stage smells like brass instrument oil, why no one else is afraid of walking on bleachers, why hot lunch has such a social stigma.  Why Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, or Phish are all listened to as some rite of passage.  The lockers, how narrow they are.  Why between classes, they still call it the bell, but it’s no longer a "bell" but a "tone" through an intercom system.  Why people underestimate adolescents. Why I remember the bad stuff way more than the good. 


Returning to High School


  1. I absolutely loved this post. I hated highschool – a lot. Every stinking, mean spirited, closed minded, petty, demoralizing moment of it. What's astonishing is going to a 20 year reunion (last year…yikes), and realizing that the people you hated then are still hateful, the ones you liked didn't show up, that the women are aging gracefully for the most part, and the men are mostly fat and balding. Damn…that's trippy.

    Now my children are enduring the hellishness of highschool – and even though I am very involved in their lives, there are highschool lessons that I have to let them learn on their own. Oh, to keep them safely under my wing forever…that would be the ideal. Make weird people out of them, but a lot less pain than watching the trial by fire tribulations of adolescence.

    And as always, thanks for sharing.

  2. wow…. Steph, thanks for this post. I'm glad that you went back to share. It makes me want to stop imagining myself back in high school as the skinny, freckled, poor, girl with braces…and go back with what I have now… wisdom and experience (and straight teeth…)

  3. This post was very insightful. Like many people who will post (before and after me) I diddn't fare well in high school either. No matter where you are from, the U.S., Germany, Canada there are going to be mean and spiteful people to ruin your day. I would never go back and relive high school no matter how much I was paid. Being in the 'real' world now doesn't give me much more hope though. The same attitudes spill out here as well.
    Thank you for this post Stephanie! Maybe the kids that you spoke to at your high school will take your words of advice and treat each other with more respect.

  4. I keep having these horrible nightmares that I somehow forgot to complete my senior year of high school, and my parents are forcing me to go back. I hate, hate, hated high school.

    Maybe I feel like I'm still the same insecure freak I was back then. Or maybe I'm afraid of losing my confidence. I don't know. But thank you for this–if only we had had a Stephanie to talk to us frankly.

  5. For all that everything has stayed the same, so much has changed. And it was only 5 years ago. Drugs are SO much more prevelant – and drugs which, when I was there, we barely even knew existed. Now they are being taken in the lunchroom.

    Of course, hot lunch is still a no-go.

    The girls dress so much older than we ever did – the coolest thing, when I was there, to wear was a thick, cable-knit abercrombie sweater with a big felt "a" on the left breast. That was THE status symbol. Now, and I feel SO CURMODGEONY when I say it, they all dress like little sluts.

    But how DID we all function without coffee? I would be at school every day at 545 for swim practice and NEVER was able/felt the need to drink coffee. Unreal.

  6. I had never thought it before, but I felt like I was back on my high school stage when I read "Why the stage smells like brass instrument oil." You are so right. It does smell like that. It's amazing how smells invoke the most vivid memories.

  7. This is totally unrelated and superficial, but I just wanted to mention that you look really amazing in those photos. Your hair and skin are glowing. Do you use a self-tanner? If so – what brand? And that sweater looks great with your skin tone. That's all – thanks. :)

  8. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Stephanie.
    It really looks exactly the same (except that my sister, 11 years my junior, is in the last shot). For the record, I wasn't scared of you. But others didn't have the benefit of singing "Greatest Love of All" with you during some bizarre Saturday morning class we took at Willets when we were kiddies.

  9. all i can think of is how happy (MID-name edited out) must be that he is gone from your life.
    you are cute, seem to be smart, have a nice career going i guess…… but you are SO SELF ABSORBED it is shocking. you cant keep 1 thing in your life private. you get some sort of satisfaction about sharing your most personal moments with people you dont even know… why? so you feel more secure about the decisions you make? So you can get reassurance from some guy in Nebraska who thinks that you are hip and cool b/c you watch HBO shows and apparently model your life after the empty characters on them?

  10. this is a continued comment:

    i am amazed each and every day about the new level of your overconfidence….. a book/blog deal does not make you an allstar. Apparently people are willing to read a lot of crap without really caring about what it actually says. On a level I guess it is entertaining.

    i haven't seen you in years, but i have a feeling the girl in highschool (albeit "shy", "overwight" a bit, "not the most popular" but at least you were a real person), was much more appealing to hang out with. I for one always had a little crush on you. What you were was REAL. What you have apparently become, is a caricature of what you think you ought to be.

    I wish you luck in whatever it is you are trying to accomplish.. But do yourself a favor, keep some things to yourself. Have some private moments that you share with no one besides maybe your boyfriend of the moment. And show some more cleavage in your pics. I think we would all appreciate that.

  11. Thanks for the photos of the old stomping grounds. It makes me want to go back and visit. Especially seeing the photos of my former English teachers — Faith and Katy. They were awesome.

  12. Going back to your High School and talking to the students about self esteem, the difference between talking about doing something and just doing it, reforging student/pupil relationships and thanking your teachers for their inspiration… I hope one day to be so "self absorbed". keep leading by example, Stephanie!

  13. Great post!

    And yes please do post some info on your new look! Your hair/skin/makeup look gorgeous! I'm craving a girlie post!

  14. I hated high school so bad! As soon as we threw our hats up, which I didn't do, I was off the football field forever!
    In college I reconnected with someone in high school, she turned in to one of my best friends! She passed away on Christmas Eve in her sleep, only 27. Life goes so fast, I want to SLOW DOWN!

  15. I loved reading this because I am in SWS right now and heard you talk yesterday and I have to say it was the best speaker SWS has ever had on a wednesday, I think. My friends and I came home and immediately went to your site and read as much as we could. Today we came in and spoke about your blog and especially the list of 100 things about you. The list is my personal favorite because it shows how honest you are and I wish I could be that honest without being embarrassed. I too hate high school and can not wait to get out. Thank you so much for coming in to talk to us, Katy always talks about you we just never knew how amazing you really are.

  16. I graduated almost 7 years ago, and though I still feel like an 18 year old, I am shocked at how young the actual 18 year olds look.

    And I absolutely hated gym too.

  17. I so hated High School and will never attend a reunion. Even though I was never picked on or anything, kind of fitting in with everyone, I hated what I saw going on all around me.


  18. First of all Stephanie, Wildcat apparently doesn’t know what a “blog” is. Maybe you should clarify that to him/her like you did with the students that didn’t understand what one was as well. Maybe if he/she thought this was ‘myspace’, more understanding would come his/her way. Funny thing is, if your blog was so narcissistic and self-absorbed, why is Wildcat reading AND taking the time out to post? Obviously, your life is interesting. Thank you for sharing it with us. Oh, I do agree with one thing—yeah, show more cleavage! (hehe) ;)

    You brought back some memories for me. Bad ones. Thanks!… I remember the worst thing about high school was gym class. I hated it. I cut out most of the time. I failed school because of not wanting to participate in their asinine games. They wanted you to do gymnastics and bust your @ss – don’t they have insurance? Or did they have that covered? We had a **POOL** in our school. We had to swim for gym class. I wasn’t skinny either. I hated changing in front of people—and ALWAYS told my gym teacher, “Oh I’m sorry, I have my period.” I had it all friggin’ month! We had to wear those caps on our heads—on top of revealing the extra ‘baby fat’ I had. Ugh. That was so traumatizing for me.

    At least you got through it. I quit. I never graduated. I went through some issues in my life that led me to give up due to anxiety attacks and other related stuff. It’s all out in my blog—so like you Stephanie- I tell ALL. There is absolutely nothing wrong with telling your complete life story if you choose to. Your readers have the ability to click the X box and not read it. But they don’t. They read it all. Believe me. Wildcat’s probably your biggest fan. Check your sitemeter or whatever you have to monitor it—and I bet you anything he/she is on there more than twice a day! Funny, right?

    Keep telling all—and we’ll still be reading! The best to you! Great post.

  19. I didn't hate high school. I despised it. And the stuck-up people, too. Yet, I wouldn't mind experiencing what you just did. A trip down memory lane remembering what it was like so many years ago. Visiting the few teachers I admired. Thanks for the retrospection and the pix that brought it all home.

  20. High school was only five years ago for me but I avoid it like the plague. Going back makes me feel old, especially since all of my old teachers have since retired. I wish my school had some sort of SWS program.

    I like this blog a lot Steph and I will continue to read.

  21. First of all, I want to say that last Wednesday when you came was probably the best general meeting I've been to so far. Even though I'm only a sophmore and haven't really had that many to compare to, the conversation we had and the points you brought up really made me believe that yeah, things suck sometimes but you'll get over it. I love how you manage to have such an awesome outlook on everything; I'm jealous. Thank you for talking to us. And I like your pictures too.

  22. Reading these comments makes me feel so fortunate for loving every minute of high school. I couldn't imagine spending so much time at a place I didn't want to be.

    We just had our ten year reunion and it was a fantastic night. I wish all of you could've had my high school experience… well the guys couldn't as it was a girls school. ;) Those years are ones I'll treasure forever.

    Great pics Stephanie. :)

  23. As much as I enjoy reading this blog, I am relieved that there are kids out there who don´t know about them (and don´t care about them) because they hopefully have better things to do in their young life than surf the internet.

  24. Foreigner—yeah they're all playing video games. Much better. (At least that's what I see going on with kids around here…)

  25. I think you all need to step back and get some perspective on HS. There are very few alpha dogs, so virtually everyone gets picked on occasionally, and more than occasionally. There are two stories I'd like to share.

    In HS, there was a guy that I had several fights with, who gave me a hard time continually. I grew to hate him. About 20 years after HS, he comes over to me in the local Y. I didn't recognize him, but he recognized me. After a minute, I knew who he was. We had a short conversation, the kind that guys have where you never talk about anything. But just knowing that he was softer, and not the mean-spirited bully he once was, made me feel much, much better.

    Try to remember that the kids that picked on any of you might have also been picked on. Maybe you were fat, maybe they were dumb, maybe someone else had abusive parents, etc. It's HS; almost everyone gets picked on. Also, the kids are 14-18, and 14-18 year old kids are a lot stupider than people our age, at least everyone I know was.

    Go back, give it a shot, reconnect with the people that you liked back then, maybe get some closure with people that gave you a hard time, and if you're a chick, look for the guy that wouldn't ask you out and see how much he's aged.

  26. Going to my 10 year reunion was incredibly cathartic. I saw that the people who called me a drama-nerd and band-geek and made me feel like gum on the bottom of their shoes were now just people. Mostly married with kids, some miserable (and still drinking like a fish) and some relatively happy. People who never would have spoken to me in a million years came up to say hello. These people who I'd built up in my mind as the horrors of my life were now just people at the bar getting a drink. Those old feelings of shame, embarassment, exclusion, etc., didn't come flooding back as I'd feared and dreaded for weeks. And now I've realized something. They've probably changed and grown up but the most important change is my own. It doesn't matter what they think of me and (wonder of wonders!) it never did! I let them have that power over my thoughts not just while I was in school but for 10 years after I left! I walked into that reunion with no job, no money, no man, no fancy home, no fabulous story to encapsulate my life, and telling them that didn't make any difference in how I felt about myself. Somewhere, somehow in the past 10 years I became one heck of a cool chick and nothing anyone in that room thought would change that. And now I feel a little stupid for not just getting over it sooner. And maybe some of them were still hateful and talking about me behind my back about my nerdy clothes. Who gives a shti? Who are they? Just a bunch of dorks I briefly encountered 10 years ago.

    And Stephanie, I too am terrified of walking on the bleachers. I just know I'm going to fall through! (Or drop my purse.)

  27. More than anything I would just like to know why I mapped out my entire high school schedule around someone who never gave me the time of day, or when he did he was a complete a-hole.

    Oh well, now he's fat and bald. Sigh….

  28. Wow! Looking at those pictures made my stomach tie in knots. I HATED high school. I wasn't in SWS, but I did have the pleasure of having Katy as a teacher. She was one of the best teachers I had at Wheatley. She was the first one who really taught me about feminism and equal rights (!). I remember having arguments with other students in my class because they had very conservative ideas and we just couldn't see eye to eye. I was so glad when I graduated and I could get out of there.

    The irony of it all is that I am a teacher now.

    I've been reading your blog for a while, but this is my first comment. I think your work is great.

  29. You're brave. I'd never go back to high school. I had a blast while I was there…but now have nightmares about the place on a regular basis. No idea why. But they're a good enough reason to stay away.

  30. I am amazed at the idea of how many people hated high school , ofcourse they ‘ve their reasons.
    But for me the time I spent at HS is something I’ll treasure forever.
    Every thing I am today is b’coz of it.
    When I think of rewinding time and living my life again , HS is something I would never change.

  31. Deb said a lot of what I was going to say in response to Wildcat, but I also wanted to say that I think it's kind of unfair for people to assume to know what Stephanie's like based on her blog. Yes, she does share experiences, thoughts, emotions, etc., but they're only part of who she is. And I find with writing (especially writing about personal experience) that it's possible for things to be true and untrue simultaneously, because feelings are dynamic. I'm often tempted to go back and edit my own posts when my feelings have changed, but I don't because that's who I was on a particular day at a particular time, and to change it would be deceptive.

  32. While you went back to high school I recently went back to elementary school, but in a different kind of way. Talk about the times they have changed lol.

  33. i loved this post. been thinking about this a lot lately. blogging is like high school. sometimes too much like high school

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