I have a confession–I loved high school. I loved it in the moment and I still long for the simplicity of those days. I should start by acknowledging the role privilege played in making this time more good than bad. There was never any question that I would be going to college, as did the vast majority of graduates from my affluent, suburban school district. I had an after-school job to build character and earn pocket money rather than meet any actual financial need. I was not ostracized or bullied in school, though I wasn’t the “popular” girl either. These factors undoubtedly made it easier for me to love my high school experience.
Matthew does a great job drawing the connection between nostalgia for high school and economic prospects but I have to disagree that seeing high school as a stepping stone makes you less likely to remember it with fondness. First of all, it is a stepping stone whether you are going to college or using your high school degree to advance at the Teeter. But more importantly, the fact that it is a stepping stone is what makes the high school years so great for some (and terrible for others).
For me and a lot of my friends, it was a time to stretch our wings and practice being adults in a controlled environment. High school was a time of firsts. I got my first paycheck in high school and I blew it all on CDs and ice cream. It took me a long time (too long if you ask my parents) to learn to save money from my paychecks. But in high school I was free to learn that lesson without fear of missing rent checks or meals. I pulled my first (of too many) all nighters out in the wild. The idea of staying up all night was so exciting it didn’t matter that there was nothing to do in my part of the suburbs after 10pm. We would just drive around and look for “adventures”. Thrilled to see what the world looked liked after curfew. In the pre-curfew hours, we went to concerts, movies, took one-day road trips, we learned our physical, emotional and social boundaries. And at the end of the day we (usually) returned to the safety of the nest.
Lets not forget high school summers! The freedom! The boredom! There was less pressure to make the summers “meaningful”. Most of my friends had jobs they didn’t care about and a lot of free time. No one was too busy or stressed out. We just spent our days killing time and thinking of something, anything to do. If someone had to clean out the garage we would all go help just to break up the monotony. There is not enough boredom in real adult life. Benjamin understood the importance of boredom:
Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. —The Story Teller
For Benjamin, that rustling was city life and modernity. For me, it was college and impending adulthood. When I was a newly-minted teenager, the world was shiny and new–all thrill (made sweeter by the fact that many things were still “forbidden”) but very little risk. Don’t get me wrong college was also a good time but it lacked the freshness of high school.
A final confession–I didn’t go to my 10 year high school reunion. It could never have captured what I truly loved about those times.