Ei-Nyung’s post about her high school got me thinking about my high school experience. That was reinforced by going out to dinner with a high school friend last week, and realizing I have completely failed to keep in touch with anybody from high school (other than this friend, who I found out moved to New York at the ten year reunion and have hung out with twice in NYC since then).
Unlike many geeks, I actually had a good time in high school. I was never picked on, which is especially remarkable considering that I was a runty under-aged obnoxious know-it-all teacher’s pet (for those of you questioning the runty part, I was a 90-pound 4’11” 12-year-old high school freshman). Heck, if I met a kid today who was like me then, I’d be tempted to beat me up. Fortunately, I went to school in the comfortable confines of suburban Chicago, which really was just as idyllic as John Hughes portrayed. I was definitely a nerd, but the nerds got along with pretty much every other group at school.
It helped that I didn’t restrict myself to being a nerd. Okay, I was on the math team and on the Scholastic Bowl team, but I did other activities as well. I was on the cross country team for a couple years until my knees gave out (growing nine inches in a year apparently causes tendinitis), and on the tennis team. I was in the marching band one year, orchestra the next, and chorus the couple years after that. I took every class I could find, including things like art and psychology, which actually lowered my GPA (because honors classes were worth extra grade points, an A in art was the equivalent of a B in most of my classes – the GPA hounds took study hall instead to preserve their numbers). I even managed to get myself elected class treasurer one year (riding on the coattails of one of the nicest girls in the school who got elected president – we were basically the nerd ticket opposing the jock/cheerleader ticket, and somehow we won). My senior year, there were dozens of us who went out to cheer on the football team each week, where we had a great time, coming up with cheers (or yelling Freebird!), playing our school song on kazoos at away games, going out to Chili’s afterwards.
But I never really fit in there. I had people I hung out with, but in retrospect, I’m not sure I would call them friends (especially considering my lack of contact with them since then). We didn’t share that much of our lives together, and I was always on the edges of the group. I went back for my ten-year reunion and was reminded that my classmates were really nice folks and I was still fond of them, but we had nothing in common. Most of them settled within 50 miles of our hometown, in towns much like the one where we grew up, going to church and voting Republican. Then there was me, who’d gone to school in Boston and was living out in the crazy liberal state of California. It’s not surprising that I never felt at home in Wheaton.
And yet I still miss high school occasionally. I was a celebrity in high school. Everybody in the school knew who I was. I intimidated teachers (I’d openly read sci-fi books in class and still answer their questions when called upon), and dominated all of my classes (the last time in my life when I knew everything there was to know in my universe). It sometimes got a bit freaky – there were several times when I was home on break from MIT and I’d run into somebody from high school and they’d remember all the details about my life (“Oh, how’s MIT? Still studying physics?”) while I was struggling to remember their name. The local paper even wrote a feature article about me during my senior year (which I’ve finally scanned in since the paper copy is starting to fade). In high school, I may not have fit in, but I was special.
Would I trade my friends and social networks for the sake of being celebrated once again? Nope. But sometimes I miss that feeling of celebrity, of everybody knowing who I was. Sometimes I wonder if I’m spending my entire life waiting for that feeling again. As the Cheers theme says, “You want to go where everybody knows your name…”