The true high school experience

High school isn’t like how we see it on the screens, and that’s okay


Courtesy of Disney

Characters from the DCOM “High School Musical 2” celebrate summer vacation with a musical number.

Hana Helfand, Editor-in-Chief

It was the second week of freshman year. I turned to my dad in the carpool line and told him, “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this.” For 14 years, I’d been building up this perfect high school experience based on what I’d read in young adult books and seen in teen dramas and Disney Channel Original Movies. Was I going to sing melodramatically through the halls, or be summoned for a magical quest, or uncover a dastardly secret on the night of prom? Who was I going to be? What character was I going to embody? Which story would play out for me? 

Now, I’ve always had a hyperactive imagination, but I was old enough to know that I wasn’t going to mysteriously grow into magical powers overnight (even if the realization might have crushed my five-year-old soul). I didn’t look pretty enough to fraternize with the folks on the CW –– I wasn’t tall or chiseled or secretly 23 –– and I wasn’t “fun” enough to get into any YA hijinks. I even committed one of the worst of sins by actually completing my homework on time. How dare I? 

That didn’t mean that my time in high school couldn’t at least tick one of the “stereotypical teenage experience” boxes … right? 

One of the first stories I wrote for the newspaper was about the “high school inexperience.” We aren’t all supermodel sleuths who talk a mile a minute and get into Ivy League universities, and 14-year-old Hana felt super bitter about being lied to by the media. I had bought into the false advertising, and I wanted a refund. 

But 14-year-old Hana didn’t know that 15-year-old Hana would play a month-long game of tag with her friends. That she would win her first award for writing that story about the unrealistic media portrayal of high school. That 16-year-old Hana would face intense sleep deprivation from the pressures of the IB program and her anxiety. That she would finish writing the first manuscript of her first book and become the editor-in-chief of the newspaper. That 17-year old Hana would complete her entire senior year online in the middle of a pandemic. That she’d end up accepting an offer to study linguistics and literature in France –– where she’ll likely believe a whole other slew of lies the media has sold her about the “college experience.” 

Freshman me couldn’t possibly understand how much senior me has actually … well, experienced! I had become so engrossed by the idea of high school being a “story” that I had forgotten that we have the ability to write our own stories. 

And I still stand by my original opinion that creating unrealistic expectations for teenagers can be incredibly harmful. From the impossible beauty standards to the speed-of-light wit –– from the ride-or-die romances to the pressures to be the best at everything –– trying to fit the television mold just takes away from trying to get the most out of each personal high school experience. 

When I first introduced myself to my freshman English class, I said that I just wanted to “enjoy myself” in high school. I received a few snickers and giggles, but the principle remained true. All I wanted to get out of high school was a story I could reflect on with pride and fondness. 

I just didn’t know at the time that my story wouldn’t mirror those I’d read or watched before. 

And that’s okay. I still accomplished what I personally set out to do, and I did it on my own terms. When I stopped trying to mold my life to fit that of the “ideal” high schooler, I was able to focus on becoming the best high schooler I could be. And that’s what I encourage current high schoolers who feel stuck in the monotony of reality to try. 

A lot of adventure can be found in the mundane if you change your perspective, and not all of it has to be fictional. 

While, to an extent, I was right about “never getting used to” the idea of growing up and growing out of my fallacious constructs of high school, I did eventually get used to my classes and my teachers and my friends. And now that I’m preparing to leave high school and set off on a new journey, I’ve realized that the high school experience I got is worth more to me than any story I could’ve read. And I’m going to miss it dearly.