Essay: Four Too Many Years of Conformity

This post requires context setting to prevent me from bursting with nostalgia and the residual embarrassment that accompanies it.

Was digging through old files, yet again, and happened across this piece I wrote as a senior in high school. 2007, people. TWO-THOUSAND-SEVEN.

I was a writer even way back then. Everyone knew it. Everyone was into it. But I had a little bit of an epiphany that year – a pre-quarter-life-crisis, if you will. So, I wrote this piece, initially, as a free-write for AP English and in an effort to *prove* in my little melodramatic high school world that my teacher for sure hated me (and, in turn, would never give me an A on anything). But I also wrote it in an effort to reassure everyone it was ok to be exactly as we are. Which is still the case, to be clear.

This will always be the case.

So, I wrote it. Turned it in for English and, as Editor-in-Chief of the school paper, ran it as an editorial. The school loved it. AP English teacher told me she loved it. And then gave me a B on the assignment, anyways. Lolz

It was ok, though. A couple years later, Mensa gave me some scholarship dollars for it 🙂

You win some, you lose some, people! And, with that, I’m gonna cover my eyes and share a piece I hope means a little bit to you, 11 years later.

Xo Charlene

Four Too Many Years of Conformity

With graduation fast approaching, every senior seems to be taking a walk down memory lane. It makes you wonder: was my high school experience worthwhile? Did I make the right decisions? If I could, what would I undo?

Almost four years, eight semesters, sixteen marking periods, or 28 classes later (however you’re willing to look at it), I’m comfortable saying there is one thing that I’ve learned: “High school” is a two-syllabic term for “a bunch of followers who are afraid to break the mold.”

We’ve all seen it happen; we’re all guilty. Keeping your mouth shut and being invited to that next party is much more appealing than leading a revolution and sitting home alone. So many of us dress the same, act the same, and feel the same. It’s confusing to me.

We are not all the same.

I don’t regret my high school experience, although I know I spent most of it blending in with the masses. These honestly were the best four years of my life, which they are often promised to be, and I wouldn’t change much. I’m not going through the whole, “I could have done so much better in so-and-so’s class,” or, “I wish I’d never become friends with what’s-his-name,” which is more than I can say for most of my friends.

I do wish, however, that I would have started being myself three years ago. I wish everyone had. I wish we all weren’t just now beginning to realize that we’re worth getting to know. I wish some of my peers didn’t have yet to be ok with who they are.

I wish we could all just accept the fact that normal is overrated, and everyone has insecurities.

The way I see it, you can either love yourself or hate yourself. After all, you’re the only one who really, truly knows you, so you should know best whether you’re worth the time of day or not. And maybe you’re not the prettiest, or the handsomest, or the smartest or the most interesting, and maybe a lot of days it sucks. And it’s probably not the best feeling in the world to be the only one who understands you, but everyone has their incomprehensible quirks. And maybe you feel like you’re the weirdest freak on the planet, and you have nothing in common with a soul on this Earth, but you do. Because, deep down, we’re all a bunch of idiosyncratic, insecure freaks, and as long as you’re breathing, that’s not going to change.

High school has given me the opportunity to truly realize who I am. I’ve learned not to always take myself so seriously, because it’s tiring. It’s downright exhausting, actually, and being myself comes so much more naturally.

I dance when there’s no music and I sing to strangers. I make weird faces and don’t always think before I speak. I hate wearing matching socks, and flames intimidate me. I get motion sick on anything that moves and buy clothes obsessively yet never have anything to wear. I like to read books that change my life and—I admit—sometimes I don’t answer my cell phone because I’m listening to the ring tone. There are certain people I can’t look in the eye, and I don’t know why. My laugh is annoying, but I’m ok with that. And my family isn’t perfect, but I act like we are. And I don’t like sharing my feelings, so I don’t. And sometimes I cry. But most times I try not to. And when I do, it’s hell. But that’s me. And yeah, I can’t deny it, sometimes it sucks. Sometimes—a lot of times—blending in is so much more alluring.

I spend more money than I know I should, and I procrastinate. I do papers the day before they’re due, and my room has been dirty since I was seven. Less dirty now, though, because I’ve been able to transport half of my wardrobe to the trunk of my car.

I have screaming matches with my dog and won’t rest until I win; I hate the sound my blinds make when I pull the string for them to ascend. I think Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, and The Temptations constitute the most amazing musicians ever, and boy bands will always hold a special place in my heart. I worry obsessively and talk a lot. Too much, probably. But who’s to say? In relation to most of the world, though, well…yeah. I talk too much.

I hate hanging up clothes and—even worse—folding laundry. Merging onto the highway scares me, especially in rush hour. I lie to avoid confrontation, and I sugarcoat stories I don’t want to tell. I hate blowing my nose because it gives me a headache, and I get a lot of unexplainable twitches. I bite my nails but at least I grew out of putting my hair in my mouth.

I’m anemic, so my fingers and toes are always cold. I force myself to stay awake for no good reason, and often realize I’m too tired to get up and go to bed. I wear scarves when I’m indoors because they make me feel intellectual, but mostly because the Gap commercial two Christmases ago was captivating enough to convince me to do just about anything. I write novels like I’m a lonely old woman, and I talk to myself. And I look in mirrors when no one’s even home, just to make sure I still look the same. And I perform concerts for no one, just because.

I do not go to church, but I do believe in God. And I haven’t completely dismissed the idea of Santa Claus. I dream about the future as an excuse to avoid my right now, and every time I watch Forrest Gump I hope Bubba, Mama, and Jenny all live.

I get random cravings like a pregnant woman, and I have good and bad days. Sometimes I try to avoid people but that’s very short lived. I’m a people person, so I’ve been told.

I come from a line of drunks, misfits, college dropouts, and druggies. I come from a line of scholars, soldiers, doctors, and lawyers. I dream big and why not? Dream big or go home.

High school has so much to do with the cliques; who can and can’t hang out together; who’s preppy or gangster or skater or cutting edge. But, now, I’m willing to say it: I’m weird; strange; as different as they come, maybe, even though it’s not evident when you first look at me. Even though it takes a little etching, once you’re beneath my surface you’ll see: I’m just like you. And he’s just like her. And she’s just like him and we’re all, honestly, so much alike. It isn’t because we shop at the same places, and like the same music, or know the same slang. It’s because we’re all students, we’re all people, we’re all weird, and that’s what unites us.

And sure, there are different skin tones. And people have different color eyes and my hair might be darker than yours. And we’re different heights and weights and body types. And maybe you need glasses, or braces, or both. And he has freckles. But how bland would a crayon box be if you opened it and everything was one shade? And the rainbow wouldn’t be as captivating, nor would nature. Color—variety—makes us prettier as a whole.

So accept it. We’re weird. We’re quite possibly stranger than we ever imagined, and who the hell cares? If we learn nothing else let it be this: if everyone was the same, no one would be different. And yeah, it sounds obvious, but this is obvious. If everyone was identical and if we all fit in, we’d all have the same, weird story. And how boring would that be?

I hope future generations are more willing to let loose; stand out; be free. But I wouldn’t be surprised if things don’t change: high school has always been about fitting in and having friends.

Yes, these were the best four years of my life, but they were only four years. As much as people worry about being a part of the whole, you’d think we had to spend half our lives in this place. And this is the realization I’m taking with me as I graduate from Gaithersburg High School: it was a great experience; it was a fun experience. It was unforgettable and well worth the arguments, tears, and drama.

But it was only four years. I’m me for the rest of my life.

2 thoughts on “Essay: Four Too Many Years of Conformity

  1. I love this post! I suppose for many, they find themselves after high school once the real world starts seeping in on them. I definitely became more brave and bold after high school! We are all indeed somewhat similar souls; just having different perspectives and attitudes set us all apart too! Such small personal achievements once we start becoming who we really are.

    Liked by 1 person

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