This topic is actually one of my most requested by fellow alumni of my high school. I think that we all remember our respective experiences at <insert school name here> quite differently, almost to an abnormal degree. I also think my particular high school was very unique in several ways, mainly in its being the most progressive educational center in the state and in its being consistently ranked the “best” (academically) in the state overall. That’s what has been keeping me from finishing this post: I’m scared that my experience won’t resonate with people who didn’t go to my exact high school at the exact time I went there. As I’ve met and talked to more people about it, however, I have come to realize that most things are far more universal than we may at first imagine. Even if you went to a very small Christian school in Mississippi, your experience is like that of many others around the world. I find this fact to be quite comforting.
As for my high school experience, I must preface this whole thing by saying how much I loved it. I know this is not typical for many, but I was lucky to have (mainly) wonderful and cool friends during my stint as a high schooler. I traveled a great deal and hosted the people I loved most at my parents’ house when I wasn’t doing something spontaneous. Heck, I got to live with my parents! That in itself is rad. I also had a fantastic educational experience (for the most part) with teachers I adore and idolize to this day, and I learned considerably more than I have at any singular institution since. I was privileged in more ways than one, and I recognize that — trust me.
I also recognize that a lot of my ability to enjoy myself was put and kept in place by my being a massive bully. A lot of you have directly asked me about or commented on my experience as a bully. It is by far that thing of which I am the least proud, but it happened, and nothing I say can change that. I might as well write about it so that I just might be able to help other young girls not to be so intensely insecure and consequently hateful. For those who have asked “what brought [me] to that social role [of bully]” I will say that very thing, that it came from the most deep-seated and insidious form of insecurity. I was basically foaming at the mouth I was so jealous of some of my friends, and that turned me into a uniquely awful person. I think I was at my most mean from ages 12 to 16, and then I feel like I got better. Well, I know I did. I blocked out a lot of my experiences being terrible, but I have remembered most things since I got my driver’s license. The more comfortable I grew in my own skin, the less concerned I became with other people and what they did. As I grew happier and more fulfilled, I became noticeably less rude and confrontational. I no longer had to belittle others to make myself feel big. I started to feel “big” for doing things that brought me joy, like going to a Quiz Bowl tournament or getting good grades or going out with my friends. That’s what I would encourage anyone reading this to do — look for yourself in the places you don’t expect to find magic. Joining Quiz Bowl and getting involved in journalism started to make me feel like my life actually had direction and momentum. I needed extracurriculars like that to help guide me, and I’m so glad I had them when I did. I was meanest when I was shakiest. You have to firm up your roots in order to have a foundation strong enough to really support you and your endeavors as you get older; you have to get to know yourself. Thank God I got to know myself eventually and started to fix the things about me that I hated, though for many that was too little too late.
To those of you who found yourselves targets of my hatefulness at one point or another, please know how sorry I truly am. That’s the only thing I can say. I fall on my sword completely.
I will also say that some of my behavior was a highly immature reaction to being the subject of some bullying myself. My friends from other places or high schools have all told me, upon my informing them of my history with being bullied, that my experiences and the experiences of other girls they knew from our school were more harrowing than any they’d heard of (and these people even attended what was traditionally thought of as the “meanest” private schools). I’m not trying to say woe is me whatsoever; I’m explaining that I felt like I needed to have a dagger in my hands at all times to protect myself. I walled myself off in several ways and opened myself up in others to create a truly hateful human being.
Why was bullying — girl-on-girl particularly — so widely prevalent and so intensely problematic at my high school? I don’t know, but I have my theories. My going theory at the moment is that it stems from wild levels of privilege and its resultant sense of entitlement to everything. There were no real limits placed on what we could buy, what we could do, which trips we could take, etc., so when the time came that somebody could not get the instant gratification after which they sought so fervently, be it a boy who liked another girl better or a grade in a class, that feeling of disappointment was novel to the individual experiencing it. It was like falling into Arctic waters; it was supremely shocking. It was painful. It was, above all, in that intensely competitive bubble, embarrassing. For instance, I didn’t make the fifth grade musical, and, although drama always appealed to and fascinated me, I resolved in that moment never to step foot into another musical audition. The shame of not getting exactly what I wanted made me nearly sick to my stomach, not for any reason other than its being plain embarrassing to lose like that in front of my friends. Of course my best friend made it, so that added to the bitterness that was lining my internal organs like plaque. We were so unfamiliar with not having life play out in the way we envisioned for ourselves that, if we had any obstacle whatsoever to getting precisely what we wanted, we were hit with an anxiety tsunami, a wave that angrily whispered in your ear: It’s not your fault. It’s theirs.
Pretty much every mishap had to be blamed on another girl, and that girl then became enemy number one. It happened with a terrifying speed, with or without cause. One weekend you’re all spending the night together and eating peanut butter Oreos and telling each other your deepest darkest secrets, and by Monday they’re literally pretending to shoot you with their finger guns behind your back. I wish I were kidding, but it was called a “kill shot,” and it was the ultimate “F you” for us middle schoolers. The kill shot, as hilarious as sounds now, eventually evolved — it got darker with more at stake. There were certain girls who held more sway than others, whose opinions dictated the rest of ours. I believe in the realm of bad movies these types of girls are called “queen bees.” If you deigned to tread on one of the queen bees’ toes in any way, at any time, then you better hold on tight because you’re about to be flung into the friendless abyss of utter irrelevance. I’ve had to walk the figurative plank several times over the course of my life with this particular group of girls, but I finally learned to swim on my own. After that, they came back to me. I had made friends with people from other schools and, most importantly, people on the opposite side of the gender spectrum, so I now offered social capital they could use to their advantage. The ceaseless calculus going on in the heads of young girls to determine who or what will give them access to whatever it is they want and how to get closer to that person or thing was honestly somewhat impressive. We were all more strategically minded, I believe, than any of us would ever admit. I don’t mean to just trash my friends at the time; I was exactly the same way. We were all guilty of being bullies at one time or another — some were simply better at hiding that side of themselves.
Do I feel like the school could have created an environment more conducive to healthy interpersonal relationships? On this point, I will absolutely criticize my alma mater. There was no hint of discipline for treating someone poorly, and if anything they stoked the fires of competition between us. We were laser-focused on getting into college and getting a good ACT score (at least a 30) because every authority figure told us that was most important goal we could possibly set for ourselves at that time, Sure, we had the odd seminar on moral courage and weekly sermons in chapel, but those were more fodder for us to make fun of than they were lessons we genuinely took to heart, I’m afraid. Our high school also made us more pretentious by the day, but I think that might be just a product of a good education. The one hard stand I saw them take in my time there was when they attempted to ban us from using the app YikYak, but I feel strongly that that wouldn’t have bothered them if faculty and administration hadn’t started getting mentioned personally themselves.
Now, I do miss the structure of my high school and a lot of wonderful friends I met during my time there. I also miss a lot of my dear teachers who were dealing with a tremendous amount of expectation themselves! I don’t mean to be too harsh in this post, but I had to tell it honestly. I swear on my honor as a <insert school’s name here> student that I shall neither lie, nor cheat, nor steal. Lmao.