Growing up, I was in love with the high school musical stories and typical coming-of-age high school movies. The dance breaks in the middle of the school, singing, romance, plays, and drama. I wanted a Troy to my Gabriella, or to at the very least live a life full of luxury and popularity like Sharpay. Promposals at pep rallies, goofy arcade days, and even the nerd and jock love story–everything in my life revolved around my high school experience being exactly that, and I decided that would be my plan.
As of now, I am a class of 2023 senior, and high school was NONE of what I assumed it would be. My high school career at Brooks consisted of survival mode for at least two years before I got to the actual “high school experience.” Imagine being a freshman coming fresh into high school. The glories of new friends, new drama, new success, and new mistakes. Essentially, the life of a freshman is equivalent to that of a piece of meat thrown at giant sharks. It's a big scary world to you, and everything is new. On top of this, you're in mental survival mode…only for the world to go into ACTUAL SURVIVAL MODE halfway into the year.
Covid was the scariest time of my life because I’d never seen anything like it before. I was having a good time with my friends one day, and then the next day the world was shut down. We went from in-person school to school online for the rest of our freshman and sophomore years. I was not prepared for any of this, and it DEFINITELY did not happen like this in the movies. I had to teach myself to learn online for a year (the hardest thing I’ve ever done) and then relearn how to function in a classroom after the quarantine was over.
Making friends because of the situation of the world became a common challenge in my high school experience. Humans communicate through face-to-face interaction, touch, smell, and the five senses essentially. None of this can be done online, so you now have to find an entirely new way to bond with people. For example, one of my closest friends was made over a literal email (thank you for being my best friend Maximus Prime). How was I supposed to flaunt the flawless tips I learned from Sharpay when I can't go outside to even meet these people? How do I gain my Troy and Gabriella love story if I'm not in school? It seemed that every social stage that I saw in the movies became 10 times more difficult than I thought it would be.
One of these social stages consisted of sexuality and discovering it. Growing up in a Christian household, I thought I would have a traditional husband who would work and I would cook and clean right? WRONG. If freshman year Ari could look at me now, I think she would be surprised at the person I’ve become. I went from a girl who was just trying to fit in and pretending to be like everyone else to a girl who has one of the most distinct personalities I know. I had my first girlfriend over quarantine, and at least the internet was right about one thing: Your first WlW relationship breakup is damaging to the soul, and it is mostly because this is the first time you were allowed to explore your true romantic interests.
Sexuality is only part of my identity: I also figured out that I liked different styles, I loved anime more than regular shows, and K-pop became my absolute lifeline. I dyed my hair green, and you will never see me without my girlfriend in the hallway. I felt like I was marginalized within the minority. I was Ari, but not the typical one everyone else knew, and that's okay.
I know that I personally struggled with balancing social situations, school, work, and clubs, and I lost the connection I had with the BALM, but I still gained new friends and bonds with my favorite teacher because of this. This year, I have created a relationship with multiple teachers throughout my classes, even though the workload can be difficult. All I have to do is communicate to them that I'm struggling and we will come to a meeting point.
My high school experience was mainly cut short because of COVID, but Brooks wasn't all that bad. The “ high school experience” consisted of bringing me down to reality and finding my own identity. Although it was made increasingly more difficult to do online, this identity allowed me to find the people that I connected to and create a community of people for myself.
Overall, don't believe the movies about what they have to say about high school because it is indeed wrong. High school is not the fun place they make it out to be, but it is also not the worst place on the earth. Just stay true to yourself and your identity regardless of those around you. You don't have to adopt any labels, and you don't have to force yourself to fit anywhere; just be you and the friendships will follow. You attract the energy that matches yours. Be yourself and everything you need will follow. Goodbye, Brooks, and goodbye to all of the good memories I made here.