Memoir: High School and the Battle for Acceptance

Posted on March 4, 2012

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     “The confident person is the one who does not have to prove themselves to anybody.”

-Anonymous

After leaving eighth grade, the last thing I really cared about was being accepted by my peers. Being a loner was the only thing that mattered. Getting to know other people was a waste of time in my opinion, and it always came with its consequences. Letting someone know my personal weaknesses only invited the potential for making future enemies who would know exactly where to strike, and hard. However, my isolationism ironically attracted a follower. This follower was one of the so-called “popular” teens of the freshmen class, yet I had miraculously provoked interest from him. When I asked why he found me so intriguing, despite my stand-offish nature, he replied,       “Because you do your own thing, and I think that’s cool.” His statement struck me as odd, since through my observations of my peers, it seemed being isolated was looked down upon. This follower, Carlos, eventually put more ideas into my head that disrupted my natural rhythm. He convinced me to stop my isolation and open up to others. At first, it didn’t seem to be a bad idea, and generally wouldn’t be considered as such; but making the jump from being a loner to interacting with others on a regular basis turned into a battle for acceptance.

I started the tenth grade at a new school. I couldn’t find acceptance at my old one; I didn’t understand the social norms well enough, and therefore wasn’t taken in warmly by my peers upon opening up. However, over the summer, I had thought through what should be done in regards to meeting new people. I knew being a shut-in wouldn’t work, as well as being too outgoing. If there was one thing I had learned about social norms, it was that no one enjoyed someone who was excessively talkative or happy; or at least no one did at my old school. At my new one, people were very different; since it was a small charter school with only a little over three hundred students, everyone knew each other. I was welcomed warmly on the first day by an affable fellow, Michael, who introduced me to all of his friends. However, I ate lunch the first few weeks by myself, until Michael finally invited me to eat with him and his friends. I gladly accepted the offer, but during the recent weeks I had been getting to know another student; he had warned me to stay away from Michael, claiming that he wasn’t as good of a person as he portrayed. I thought it odd, considering how friendly he was. But as time went on, I found myself a group of friends who accepted me, but we all seemed to get along only on the surface. After being there for a while, I had the impression that everyone at this school had a secret distaste for each other. I constantly found myself bewildered by the things supposedly close friends said of one another. I also found it sad that some friendships appeared to only be held together by tolerance, not whole-hearted acceptance.

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I had developed a learning disability that got me removed from my school. The following year, I attended an alternative learning center that helped me get back on track. I was once again ready to reenter a mainstream campus for senior year; though I was reluctant. Even if the populations of smaller schools consisted of individuals who merely tolerated each other, I thought that better than the cool indifference of those who attended a normal high school. Nonetheless, I knew the most important aspect upon returning to a comprehensive campus was earning my right to graduate on time.

The students I met were, to my surprise, actually very kind. What intrigued me ever more was that their kindness was genuine, not out of social obligation. As the year went on, I began noticing the cool indifference of the school that had been previously overshadowed by people’s general kindness. I suppose there’s a dark side to everything. My school’s motto was, “We are one. We are the pack!” Yet there were so many instances in which unity was clearly the last thing on anyone’s mind. Two students had taken their own lives that year, yet the school had failed to make any official statement, and students spoke casually about their passing, as if it wasn’t a big deal. And apparently, it wasn’t. The school held an assembly on suicide. It was mediocre at best. A guest speaker told the story of his friend who had committed suicide, and his school never mentioned the passing either. All anyone got about of that assembly was: Suicide is bad. If you feel down, or notice someone who might be, get help. Students walked out of the auditorium as if they had just seen a stand-up comedian. Jokes were being told and laughter was everywhere. The unity preached to us on a daily basis was nowhere to be found.

A few months later, the school held the Every 15 Minutes program on drunk driving. Certain students were selected to dress in all black, paint their faces white, and pretend to be dead for three days. On the third day, wrecked cars and students who pretended to be dead and injured were laid out on the front lawn of the school. The whole student body watched as an ambulance and fire truck pulled up in front of the morbid scene before us with their sirens wailing. The firemen, paramedics, and police officers simulated exactly what they would do in the situation; tend to the injured and dead, and interrogate the drunk driver. Afterward, we went into the auditorium, which was dimly lit. Guest speakers told us the morbid reality of drunk driving, and the students who were “dead” held small candles, and read depressing letters to their friends and families. No one left the assembly telling jokes or laughing. It was an ominous procession out of the double doors with only the sound of shuffling feet.

Looking back on those assemblies, I found myself wondering why one had been taken more seriously than the other. Obviously, it had been that the Every 15 Minutes program drove its point home with the grand display of what happens when someone chooses to drink and drive: Lives are lost and damaged. One the other hand, doesn’t suicide have the same aftermath? A best friend, son or daughter, older or younger sibling, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter, is lost. So what makes it any less tragic? The fact that no other lives are lost in the process? Other lives are surely altered permanently, even if not in the physical sense; but I suppose that as long as no one else was barred from achieving their life goals, suicide will continue to be swept under the rug.

Getting back to the Battle for Acceptance, senior year is the most important year for any high school student. It’s the last chance to do anything fun; such as attending any field trips, dances, and most importantly, prom. I attended a field trip with my American Government class to the courthouse. Originally I hadn’t wanted to go, since I didn’t really know anybody well in that class. But I decided to go anyway, since it was the last time I would be going anywhere with a large group of people my age (And also, out of my nerdy curiosity, I wanted to witness a trial).

At the reception, my class sat in a large auditorium where those picked for jury duty await to be assigned a trial. A judge gave us a lecture on the ignorant actions that land people in a courtroom, and how we should never do them. Among the things that he mentioned was Prom night. He told us about how teenagers engage in all sorts of reckless and idiotic behavior, and that if Prom was the highlight of our whole high school career, our lives must not be very pleasant. At the time, I disagreed. I thought attending Prom was a big deal, but that was only because everyone else my age made it out to be as such. When considering that all that takes place is a bunch of seventeen and eighteen year-olds who don’t know how to dance are pretending that they do, eating cheap junk food, and listening to the same Hip-Hop songs aired repeatedly on the radio, it’s not a big deal. Anyone who has a big enough backyard and doesn’t care about their neighbors could have their very own Prom whenever they wanted. But alas, I didn’t have this insight senior year, and didn’t go to Prom. I couldn’t get a date, and my only friend thought that high school dances were stupid(How right he was).

Before I knew what hit me, June came along, and I was wearing a black graduation cap and gown, walking up a stage before the senior class and their cheering families that filled the bleachers. I received my diploma and rejoined my fellow graduates for the slow procession through our teachers who stood in rows on either side of us. I shook hands and gave hugs, and finally moved off our blue football field to find my family. It was a beautiful, cheerful, day, and the only thing that I should have felt was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. But that, sadly, was the last thing on my mind. I couldn’t help but feel unaccomplished. Looking back, my high school career had been mostly a cluster fuck. And my Battle for Acceptance had been a lost cause. I didn’t get to experience much of what others my age did; the bountiful friendships, real or fake; the multiple relationships, drawn out and bitter, or short and sweet. What I realize now though, is that I fought the wrong Battle for Acceptance. Being accepted in high school isn’t as much of a challenge if you accept yourself first(Same goes for life in general). Knowing what you’re all about makes it easier to find exactly where you will fit in.

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Posted in: Memoirs