The ABCs of High School

Every year since I was a freshman I’ve written about graduation. This year it’s my turn. By the time this goes up, I will no longer me a high school student. I will have graduated from the institution I’ve attended for the past 13 years. 13 years is a long time. I’ve been saying this so often in the past weeks and months that it no longer feels significant. Regardless, there are a handful of people I’ve seen almost daily since I was 5, and it will be strange to enter a universe where nobody knows these people or their faces.

My stint in the big house the kids these days call high school has come to a close. As a reflection, and for all the bright-eyed soon-to-be high-school freshmen (which includes my dear, darling sister) who in a few months will be walking through the halls I can trace like the veins on the back of my hand, here’s a (by no-means comprehensive) guide to high school. Given one person’s limited lens of experience, I asked some of my fellow seniors to pitch in. Think of it as an addendum to Ned’s Declassified, and remember, stay in school kids!

Apologies. “Learn when to use them. Stop apologizing for things that don’t matter and apologize when you are angry. The familiar feeling of rage and indignation means that you actually probably need to swallow your pride and apologize. Don’t cite excuses; don’t let it sit and stew; just do it. The apologies that come easy – the ones you say all the time because you have been taught – those are unnecessary. Stop apologizing for who you are and start apologizing for the things you do out of inconsideration. It may hurt initially, but it feels better afterward.” – A.N

Awkward. “High school is awkward. Let’s all be awkward together.” I.C

Balance. It can be a most elusive mistress but one worth the effort to seek out. Balance prevents burnout and helps keep things in perspective.

Bravery. “In all honesty, surviving high school in one piece is maybe the most challenging thing you will ever do. From drama to grades to boys and girls to family to anything else, mental sanity often takes a back seat. But if you find bravery in your choices and actions, if you strive to challenge yourself and courageously persevere, you’ll make it. Be brave with your endeavors, take risks, make assumptions, leap towards new opportunities, don’t fear your feelings. Be brave and conquer.” – R.M

College apps. It’s part of the circle of life. Come fall of your senior year, it’s all anyone seems to talk about. They’re long and arduous and of course important, but when senior spring comes around you’ll be amazed how quickly decisions come and suddenly, only some of those applications matter.

Drinking. And doing it underage. It’s a thing. You know this. I know this. According to the experts, it doesn’t occur as much as modern media makes it out to but chances are, you’ll get invited to at least one party where people are drinking. Know it’s illegal in the U.S if you’re under 21. Moving on.

Exercise. Whether you’re an all-american 3-sport athlete or a gold-medalist in the art of binge watching, it’s important to get up and move around every once in a while. After all, as the ineffable Elle Woods once said, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t!” Anything from a quick run with your dog or even a walk around the neighborhood to joining a yoga class, will help stave off some of the stress.

Failure. “It sucks and it’s the best thing that can possibly happen to you. Everyone says it and I’ll say it again: you can learn from your mistakes, and they can be the best teachers.  Chances are someone will get pissed at you, you’ll fail a test, or you’ll lose the game for the team at some point along the way. I’ve done all of the above. Embrace it, own it, and grow from it.” – I.C

Grades. “The boy you sit next to in Chemistry will ask what you got on the last test, your best friend will do better in math than you, your parents will insist you can do better. Try to realize how ridiculous it is that hours of hard work can be translated to one letter and try to let it go if that letter isn’t an A.” – N.B, The Girl in the Little Black Dress

Hope. It’s a thing with feathers, according to Dickinson. But seriously, dare to dream. Set goals. Make wishes. “When good things happen, you’ll have faith in having hope.” – S.B

Hurt. “High School is riddled with it. Whether it’s your friends, your teachers, your enemies, your gal or guy, or your lack of one, it happens. A lot. Heartache seems like it won’t end, like your heart is caving in on itself, like every breath you take is a conscious effort to insist your lungs keep working, when your mind feels so empty and so busy at the same time. Step one: drink lots of cold water. Absolutely. Don’t question it, just do it. Wash your face while you’re at it. Step two: do something uninhibitedly for yourself. Buy something, do something, see something. Do something that makes you happy solely because you want to do it. Step three: do something uninhibitedly for someone else. Helping others is the surest way to relieve the prism that forms around your hurt. Do something for someone who didn’t ask for it, who needs your time more than you do. Then, collect yourself. Turn around and resolve to be strong, to be wise, and to be open. It’s hard, harder than almost anything else, at some point, you’ll look up, and you’ll feel your heart healed and open and curious again.” – R.M

IPhone. “Your smartphone of choice. Can’t live with it; can’t live without it. Actually, you can. No one talks about the nights they spent on their phones, scrolling through Twitter. Stop living other people’s lives vicariously and remember to put down the lens through which you have come to view the world. Pictures are cool, but actual memories are cooler. Have a girl’s night where not a single person has her phone on her. It’s worth it.” – A.N

Journal. “I dare you to spend a week writing in your journal every day. Just write about what you did, who you got ice cream with after school. The following week, dig a little bit deeper. Who did you think about during math class? What are you going to miss the most about the year you’re leaving behind? Wait a few days, a few weeks, what have you, and read it all over. Then try to journal for the whole school year. Write about things that make you happy. As the years pass, you can follow your past, and stay fully focused on the future, remembering details, and noting them as you live them.” – S.B

Kindness. “The average person is marked as such because they consistently fail to make the difference between mediocre and life-changing. Think back to the last act of true kindness you witnessed, and you feel your heart swell up inside your chest with esteem and gratitude. It’s simple. Make conscientious decisions, love freely, be aware, and most of all, strive for compassion. You can change someone’s life with a single choice.” – R.M

Kiss. “I was one of those people who got so wrapped up about the first kiss that it took me far too long to actually get around to doing it. Let me assure you, I am now a fan. I stand behind my girl, Audrey Hepburn, when she said, ‘I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.’ I would also like to add that I believe that dancing around your room while lip-syncing Taylor Swift is a perfectly acceptable reaction to a first date. Academics are important, but remember too that you’re young and that’s beautiful and it’s okay to be a little drunk on youth. Don’t leave high school regretting all the what-ifs and near-misses. If you’re waiting around for a shy guy to make a move, kiss him first. Practice unashamed, terrifying bravery in thirty-second intervals, and go for it.” – A.N.

Love – what a hefty word. Don’t just sling it around. I don’t wanna knock high-school relationships or sweethearts because I’ve seen and heard of many fantastic, successful such couples but don’t despair if you don’t find “the one” in high school, or hey even in college. That’s not the end all be all. Have fun, let loose and remember, “we accept the love we think we deserve.

Mentor(s). Someone older than you whose judgment and opinion you trust. Bounce things off of them, even if you think it might be trivial because if it’s important to you then it matters, at least to some extent, and two heads are better than one.

Music. “Send people songs. The best pick-up line I ever used was “what’s your favorite song?” I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much wonder on a stranger’s face before. It’s something to talk about, a warm hug when you’re alone in bed and can’t fall asleep. Just listen to music, and share it with others. Go to live concerts. Go to symphonies. This one time I was on a school trip and feeling really lonely, and then we went to an orchestra concert, and I absolutely fell in love. Music is magical. Just let it happen.” – S.B

No. “No is a complete sentence and an answer to a question that doesn’t need a follow-up. Learn to say no to some of the obligations heaped on you. I wish I had mastered this particular skill far earlier. Better to be really good at a few things than a Jack of all trades, master of none. Say no to situations that make you uncomfortable. If no one hears you, leave. Get help. Get out. No one has the right to judge you for your own boundaries. Say no when you would compromise yourself by saying yes. Say no even to people you like. Don’t let your well-being and sanity take the backseat for a friend. You never, ever have to qualify the sentence “No,” and under no circumstances should you ever apologize for it.” – A.N

Novice. “Newbie, beginner, baby, n00b. Most likely, you’re always going to feel like one, even if people look up to you (which they will), and that’s totally fine. Nobody has it all figured out. Really.” – ELS

Organic Chemistry. “That’s the horror class that you’ll hear about from college students, whenever you chat with them. But high school has them, too: your BC Calculus, your Music Theory, and if you ask the right people, every other class there is. You can either loathe the horror classes or embrace them, and the people that embrace them tend to come out a little more satisfied. So no matter how difficult a class is, if you go into every day hoping you’ll learn something (even if it is organic freaking chemistry), you probably will learn more and be happier with your learning then the grumbling people in the back of the room.” – ELS

Outsider. “Disney Channel has us well prepared for the inevitability of standing alone in a room, sitting alone at a table, walking alone in the halls. And yet no one has ever perfectly described the gut tangling, heart wrenching, mind clouding loneliness that ensues when you realize you don’t fit in. People will tell you to ignore this, to overcome it, but they don’t understand the difficulty and futility of “mind over matter” when you feel that every essence of you is unwanted. The simple solution is to breathe. Because it happens to everyone. All the time. Often. It happens, and social dynamics will never avoid it. It’s not a matter of being proud or strong in front of others. It’s a matter of being proud and strong for yourself. You have to love yourself, you have to believe with everything in you that maybe you don’t want to conform, maybe you don’t enjoy a certain company, maybe you’re worth being more than tolerated. Because you undoubtedly, infallibly, always are.” –R.M

People change. Since I’m assuming you’re human, you will too. Not all change is bad, and not all change is good, but it’s part of the circle of life, and the best part is, if you don’t like something, you’ve got the power to turn it around. Never forget that change is within your hands.

Question everything. You’re only young once. Now’s the time to learn what you want. Be curious and don’t accept the status quo just because it’s been the status quo for ages.

Read. For pleasure. And the book(s) that are assigned for classes. It’s not the cool thing to do, and it’s tedious at best, but if your goal is a high GPA or a prestigious university, it’s a great study habit. I wish I’d listened to the people who told me so earlier than I did.

Remember. “Appreciate the best of moments and the worst of moments. Internalize them, write them down, think of which stories you’ll tell your kids and your grandkids, think of those which you may never tell anyone at all. High school has ups and downs, but it’s the most condensed clash of experiences you are likely to ever have. Don’t let it pass you by.” – RM

Sleep. Like everyone will tell you, it’s important. And, it is possible to get the requisite 8-10 hours even on a school night. However, you will have at the very very least, one all nighter, and for sure a handful weeks where you get on average approximately 3 hours of sleep a night. This isn’t the norm every year for everyone nor is it the exception but more work and more responsibilities will cut into your beauty rest. Set boundaries so its effect is as minimal as possible.

TV. Combining it with studying is oh so tempting but not very effective. Seriously dude, don’t.

Umbrella. “Find yours. When your day goes to crap, when you can’t get through another minute of class or of people, when you feel like the skies are always cloudy and the rain will never stop, find a place, a home, a sanctuary. Be it a great book, a comfy bed, a challenging hike, find some way to release yourself and your tensions, and things will snap into perspective. Take time to reenergize so that when you face the world anew, you can give it hell. – RM

Unique. “As many times as you’ve heard it, this is the number one thing you want to be, and not just because colleges will maybe probably like you better if you are. Find your passions before you let anyone convince you that they’re “weird” or that you’re “not the type,” and then just fly with them. Whether that’s playing sports with balls, playing the mandolin, or playing every single nerdy board game you can get your hands on, the people you meet when you’re playing your way are leaps and bounds better than the people that will try to make you play their way.” – ELS

Virginity. “People try to make sex a really big deal. It is, and it isn’t. It’s not a concept to take lightly, but it’s not the meaning of life. Well, maybe it is. But not in high school. Grow up on your own schedule. When the time comes, it comes. When the time comes for your friends, give them a high five, and remember that your timeline does not have to rely on theirs.” – S.B

Work in progress. That’s what you are, as you go through these 4 years. You’re growing and changing and therefore, nothing is permanent. (Except, technically a tattoo). There’s an ancient proverb that says this too shall pass and it’s very applicable to high school.  One moment you’ll be devastated because you got your history paper back and the next, ecstatic because the cute kid who sits behind you in economics said ‘Hi’ in the hall. Life is ever-moving, ever-changing (just like each and every one of us) so don’t sweat the small stuff.

X…. “It seems like there aren’t really any words that begin with X. Find your niche. Do something crazy that nobody’s ever heard of. Audition for solos, make speeches, write a paper about something nobody else agrees with. Be special, be yourself, be different. Diversity is about pushing aside what we all seem to have in common, and bringing people together through their differences. Find a word that starts with the letter X that isn’t xylophone.” – S.B

You can do it. Whatever it is. My grandmother always told me, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. And, as a high schooler, your age can be an advantage and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Youth. “Remember that you’re young. You make mistakes, other people make mistakes, and this is your chance not only to learn to forgive, but to learn to grow. This is your time to try new things, to be glorious, to be beautiful, and to be unhindered. Explore every meaning of the phrase ‘you’re only young once.’” – R.M

Zumba. “And all the other random clubs and activities out there that at first glance don’t seem like what you want to be doing on your Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but then suddenly everybody is doing it. Somehow there are a lot of those. The point is, there are a lot of neat adults and almost-adults that have a lot of diverse skills and interests, and you never know who you might meet while sweating and trying not to look like a rejected flamingo while you miss half the steps you were just taught.” – ELS