THE TEEN EXPERIENCE: Madison, Rising College Freshman

The first day of freshman orientation might as well be judgement day. If you wear some running shorts and a t-shirt, you don’t care enough. If you wear a tank and some new jean shorts, you care too much. Better wear makeup to look presentable, but not too much or you’ll be deemed “extra.” There is a middle ground that everyone fights to find, but can’t because it doesn’t actually exist. Regardless of what you wear, seemingly every other kid passes judgement. So of course, the night before orientation, I sat in my room trying to piece together an appropriate outfit for the next day. I settled upon some blue jean shorts and an olive green t-shirt from h&m. This was my version of the sought after “middle ground.”

For most girls at my school, freshman year seemed to go a little like this: wear cute clothes (without trying too hard), make lots of new friends (whether they’re real or not, nobody cares), do well in school (to set up your next chapter), and get the attention of an older boy (preferably a sophomore). At the time, these steps seemed so important. If you followed them you’d be set, and if you didn’t you’d be lost. So we did. It was fun, but it was absolutely exhausting. Monday through Friday was all about getting through the week without sweating in P.E., or tripping and eating the floor in the forum between classes. Friday and Saturday were for getting dinner or going swimming with friends. Sunday was for homework. Then start all over Monday. Freshman year, I developed into a social animal.

Sophomore year was a little bit different, with a little more emphasis on doing well in school, and a little less on the clothes. Friends and boys seemed just as important as they used to. It became a competition as to who took the most classes and who got to the ACT/SAT tutor first. If you didn’t have a tutor by the spring of that year, you might as well be screwed for the college process (which was a total joke, we were 15). The school week was more about who was in the library and who wasn’t. Even if you didn’t have much work, you would sit in the library on your computer to at least look like you gave a crap about your future (I was one of those kids). This year, I thought that I had developed maturity.

Junior year continued on the same path. School grew to be more important than clothes, friends, and even boys at times. The number of A’s on a report card and the score on a standardized test were the most important piece of the puzzle. Memorize the right answers rather than how to get them and you’ll be just fine. My curiosity was pushing daisies. I was lucky enough to have parents who cared enough about school and grades to give a gentle push without being on my back all of the time. The only thing they truly cared about was my best effort. Unfortunately, that was not the case for most of my friends. While their parents were riding them about grades and scores, my parents weren’t, so I decided to take care of that myself. Below a 90 was not the end of the world, but it wasn’t good. I worked myself harder than I ever had before and developed a work ethic that impresses me today.

Senior year carried out that same work ethic for the first semester of the year. I applied to the schools I had most interest in early and was lucky enough to get in, saving me hours of more applications to fill out for regular time. I worked the hardest I ever had in my life and it paid off. My parents were proud and I was proud. I was finally able to sit back and relax for a minute. Because of the nature that I had worked through junior year and the first bit of senior year, it felt weird to take a night off every once in a while. I was able to see my friends without stressing about what I should have been working on instead. Finally I was able to find myself and put time into what mattered to me, so I took two independent studies at school (one on addressing sexual assault and consent, and one on refugee resettlement). Senior year was all about finding and understanding myself and my friends. Every single one of us had different things (and hard things) going on in our minds and at home. During this time, I developed a sense of empathy.

From all of what you just read, you could assume that I had a terrible high school experience and that I just love to complain. Neither of those thoughts ring true. I had a pretty wonderful high school experience. I made the best of friends who I will keep for the rest of my existence. I developed a strong work ethic that will serve me well in the years to come. But most importantly, I got to know myself; I developed a strong self-awareness that has benefitted me greatly. I grew into a (mostly) confident young woman with an idea of what I’d like to leave in my wake, and for that, I will be forever grateful.