Ten years later

I’ve been reminiscing this week – partly because my firstborn turned six over the weekend, which is quite a head trip; and partly because my baby brother went to his high school prom last week and it got me thinking about my own senior year of high school, ten years ago. If I’d been a normal high school student, I’d now be worrying about an upcoming ten-year class reunion. Instead I’m thinking back to my awkward, awkward prom and graduation with a bunch of students I’d never met before. If ever there was a time in my life I felt like a complete outsider, the last few weeks of high school were it.

(Okay, let’s be honest: I spend nearly all my time feeling like a total outsider. I’m pretty sure if I ever started feeling comfortable the unexpectedness of it would make me so uncomfortable I’d fall out of my chair.)

I went to a private Christian school for my freshman and sophomore years of high school, but then got too big for my britches and decided to enroll in a postsecondary program at a local university – a program through which smart, nerdy high schoolers like me could attend college classes for high school AND college credit, on the state’s dime. For me, the decision was a no-brainer – I’d leave high school, where I was geeky and bored and pretty sure I was smarter than most of my teachers, altogether and take all my classes at the university. If I played my cards right, my classes would meet all for my high school requirements but also put me well on my way to finishing my bachelor’s degree two years after I graduated high school.

We hit a snag when we announced this plan to the high school administration – they insisted that I still take classes at the high school for half the day, and by the way they’d need us to keep paying full private school tuition. No way! we said and promptly enrolled me in the public high school instead. For the two years I “attended” that school I only ever set foot on campus twice, for meetings with the guidance counselor to make sure I was meeting my course requirements.

Leaving high school early to become a full-time college student at fifteen was a huge adjustment, but I thrived. There was a community of us, I discovered, a dozen or so high-school students who were doing the same thing I was; we laid claim to a group of ratty armchairs in the student center and hung out there between classes, sipping coffee and feeling like conquerors. The other college students regarded us with the same reverent resentment our high-school peers had held for us; but at the university there was a grudging respect for us younger students who were at the top of our classes, instead of the contempt and bullying we’d experienced in high school.

But suddenly I was facing the end of what would have been my senior year of high school – in fact my sophomore year of college – and I was longing for the things my would-be classmates were doing. In the student center, the other postsecondary kids were still making denigrating remarks about our high-school peers; but I was dreaming about prom and graduation, fancy dresses and stretch limos and throwing my mortarboard cap into the air with the rest of the class of ’99.

I did my best to talk myself into attending. I was still a high school student, I reasoned; I had just as much right as any of the other students to attend prom and graduation. It was a milestone, one I’d worked hard to earn – harder than my classmates, in fact; if anything I deserved it more than they did – and think of my parents! I was their firstborn; I had a duty, a responsibility, to give them all the standard end-of-high-school photo-ops.

So I bought two tickets to the prom and got fitted for a graduation robe. I bought a shiny dress, and my boyfriend of two years – a cute sophomore at a college 300 miles away – came home and rented a tux. My best friend’s mom styled my hair and I fantasized about being the Cinderella of the high school prom, the beautiful, enigmatic girl nobody recognized but everyone instantly revered.

promI got over my delusions when I arrived at the prom and nobody noticed that I was there – or, the kids who did notice me gave me odd, unwelcoming looks – which I should’ve predicted, seeing as how I was a stranger elbowing my way into a party where everyone else had spent the past four years together becoming bosom friends. Another girl was wearing the same dress as me, and she looked cuter in it. And my cute college boyfriend, it turned out, hated crowds and didn’t like to dance.

But we danced anyway, because I’d paid $40 for those tickets and I wasn’t about to let a little awkwardness stop me from making the most of my only normal-high-schooler experience. And a few days later I accepted my diploma in front of the same crowd of strangers, and nobody clapped except my parents and my cute college boyfriend. My parents took a lot of pictures, and I smiled and thought about my student-center friends and how much I’d rather have spent the afternoon with them than with strangers in tasseled hats.

A year after prom, I dropped out of college: unsurprisingly, the major I’d chosen when I was fifteen wasn’t a good fit, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. A year after that I married the cute college boy who’d chivalrously taken me to a prom full of strangers; two years after that we had a baby boy whose sixth birthday we celebrated this weekend.

By the way, I may actually go back to school this fall, after a nine-year hiatus; stay tuned. If I do, do you suppose there will still be a group of haughty 16-year-old geeks hanging out in the student center? Do you think they’d let me sit with them?


2 Responses to “Ten years later”

  1. 1 steph May 6, 2009 at 11:54 am

    nice post! I know you going back to school will be AWESOME! I’m excited to read about your adventures. And witty analysis about “kids today” πŸ™‚

  2. 2 Rachel May 11, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    The 16 year olds will still be there, and I bet they’d be glad to have you. The “non-traditional” students tend to flock together, I should know, I’ve been one πŸ™‚

    My prom (junior and senior) were both crap. Just because your prom is held on the Biltmore Estate doesn’t mean you will enjoy it :b After junior year, i have no clue what made me go to senior prom. Probably the nagging voice in my head screaming “when you are 40 you will regret it if you don’t go.” If it makes you feel better, I didn’t fit in either. Even though I had known the people most of my life, they had forgotten me, because I home schooled most of high school, and was only able to attend prom and graduation because I was, like you, technically still a student at the public school. Oh yeah, my then boyfriend, who was also a college sophomore at the time, despised the tux, hated dancing, and didn’t attend his OWN proms. Bless his heart for letter me drag him.

    I LOVE the pic. I need to show you mine, it’s hilarious πŸ™‚

    Sorry, didn’t mean to write a novel here.

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