Journal of the Emerald Specter 98: Social Statuses

This might be a weird column title and I’m not really sure how long this one is going to be… I had a plan to write something that wasn’t necessarily geeky but was related to something I’ve seen a lot of in the media, as well as had a fairly recent live interaction with: teens not quite having a grasp on what really matters.

Having been, at one time, in a high school and vying for that ever important “social status” in a somewhat controlled environment, I have an important point to make about that search for status: it means literally nothing.

That isn’t entirely true.

The only people to whom a social status from high school are people who never intend to leave the place where they attended said high school. In small towns, I’d even extend that to include moving to anywhere within a 100 mile radius. In North Dakota, that applies to the entire state… because, having formerly lived there, there isn’t much there.

Have you ever looked at someone who has lived in a small town all their life and thought they were cool? I’m not talking about the guy who is a good father (or mother), who attends PTA meetings, who does what they need to do in order make it through life because they didn’t have the option to leave… I’m talking about that guy who still has the mullet, who drives the pickup truck he had in high school because he thinks it still is a status symbol, the guy who is working construction around town because that’s the best job he could find, and he’s still hanging out with high schoolers (or at least keeps showing up at a lot of the parties they’re at).

Teens believe high school is the end all be all of everything. If they have lots of friends, they’re winning. If they are considered popular, they’re winning. If they have a successful academic score, they’re winning. None of these things affects your life outside of high school.

Sure, an argument can be made for friends sticking with you afterwards, making you happier. An argument can be made for academic success leading to bigger or better paying jobs. You don’t need either of those things to achieve those ends, though, because high school doesn’t matter.

Let me tell you a tale.

I grew up in a small town, a little place where “small town” actually means small. My graduating class was 63 people. I first tried my hand at academic excellence but had pressure beyond my control (bullies), so I shifted gears and started hanging out with the… infamous crowd. While none of those friends were largely desirable in social circles, they were my people because they alleviated the pressure.

During the “era” I grew up in, there were three basic social groups: jocks, preps, and the loads. Jocks were what you’d expect: sports players who were adored by the community for their participation. Preps were more or less what you’d expect: the social standing masters, the academic successes, and they held all the “political” sway (Valedictorian, class president, event organizers, etc). The loads were the ones that need the most explanation, because they encompassed a large portion of the rest of us: some where drug users, some were drinkers (most, actually), legal troubles often plagued them, and they didn’t spend tons of time in school.

I hung out with the loads and traded some of the “social capital” I had for some awesome results. First, the bullies all but dried up… because why would you antagonize the guy with the undesirable friends? Second, I ended up learning a lot of stuff about life I wouldn’t have gotten from either of the other two groups (things too numerous to list here). Third, I have more friends from that group to this day than I have from my actual graduating class.

There are a good number of classmates I won’t ever talk to again… because they’re assholes. There are a good number of classmates I won’t be talking to anymore, ones that I have given a chance on Facebook (for example), because they’re close-minded assholes. There aren’t more than a handful of former classmates that I actively have any contact with, and some of them are just giving me the “pity friending” on Facebook because they might think I need it. I don’t.

I have a job that I enjoy and have been doing for over a decade now, in spite of my academic history. My college education, which I took in order to just use the money from my GI Bill before it ran out, has absolutely no bearing on any job I’ve had since getting the degree.

What I’m saying is that high school doesn’t matter, socially speaking. The cheerleaders having a beef with you and being bitchy at you constantly isn’t going to have any bearing on your life, unless you remain in that place where you grew up. Which actually leads me to the most important part of what I’ve talked about so far: staying at home.

When I graduated from high school, I joined the Navy. It got me the hell out of my hometown and gave me a great experience meeting vastly different personalities, going to places I never would have thought to go, and I didn’t need to associate with any of the “poisonous” relationships from high school. Life got better. WAY better.

While it took me 15 years to accomplish the goal of leaving North Dakota (convincing my wife), I succeeded in leaving North Dakota forever. The place, from my point of view, is just now entering the 19th century (yes, 19th), they’re closed-minded, and opinions (if they didn’t match everyone else’s) didn’t matter.

You know what? I don’t care. I live in Oregon now, Portland to be specific, and I’ve never been happier.

High school had no bearing on anything that I’m enjoying, or dealing with, today.

So, when you think high school is the most important thing in the world, socially speaking, think again. It’s only important “right now,” it won’t matter in a decade… or two… unless you never go anywhere after you graduate.

Stretch your legs, grow a little, and get away from home. You might just understand that there is a better “home” out there for you with less toxic people and all of them don’t care about high school social structures either.

Live a little.