I’ve spent my whole life avoiding anything related to high school. Since I graduated 4 years ago from a place that prevented me to be my full self or be around a group of people who would appreciate me for who I was, I actively made sure to never look back on that life stage of all the anxiety, isolation, and 24/7 code switching that I carried on my back, in addition to the gaudy and excessively heavy textbooks school assigned to us. It’s been 4 full months since I graduated from the University of Washington, an experience that for the most part allowed me to fully explore and embody the person I feel as though I am supposed to be. I won scholarships, spoke at graduations, impressed professors, and became friends with many people who will most likely always be in my life. As I moved back home a few months ago to prepare for my next adventure, Chicago, the restlessness of seeing people from my high school saga began to circle my mind like a mist, actively attempting to consume me. Maybe it was because I moved home that I feel like I “failed.” However... success is internal, and constantly moving forward with the right mindset. And I needed this period of time as a transition, one that I so badly need from being maxed out at times in college. After I moved home, I found a part time job at a nearby community college that is a good experience for me to have. It’s humbling to learn from those that I frankly was taught to judge. Community college students are still given a stigma through my eyes, but I am learning how to erase expectations of people who come for my help. Their circumstances sometimes are beyond what I could ever imagine, and I aspire to continue to welcome their circumstances just like the questions they ask, though I may not know the answer. This is a process of being less critical on myself as well.
One day as I went to retrieve something for work across campus, a tall and vaguely familiar figure gestured for my attention. I knew who this person was- he was a guy who graduated high school my year, someone I remember being one of those rich, attractive, and athletic kids that I so desperately tried to avoid and be, all at the same time. He waved me down and offered his hand for me to shake. “We went to high school together,” he said. I was so surprised that he remembered. We chatted and he shared how he went to California to play football but made huge mistakes in school. Which is how he ended up back in community college. However, his vulnerability and ability to reflect really sat with me. He shared how he and I had very different lives, and how he was always pressured to work out and be an athlete. He struggled in school because he couldn’t be a student for that reason. He was afraid of going to class because he wasn’t good at it and felt like a failure. He mentioned the constant stigma against athletes. Because of the friends I’ve made who were athletes, I understood with what he was talking about. The conversation ended a few moments later- he had papers he needed to write. But he did share that he did finally find a passion in school- business.
As I walked away, I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and guilt. This was a hypothetical interaction that was taunting me since I’ve moved home. I wish I could get over my insecurities of being recognized who I once was (or be reminded of the person I was insecure about), and just say hi to people. To my high school classmate- I appreciate you showing what happens when you get over your past and talk to others, and be who you are, as you are, right now.