High School: An introspective retrospective

A visit to high school brings new perspective on college and what it means to be a student.

by Allison Fingerett

Last week, my best friend Nick came to visit for what was sure to be a spring break of unparalleled and much-needed adventure. His Facebook status update, âÄúIâÄôm headed to Minneapolis!âÄù alerted the universe of his arrival and was met by a comment from our former high school writing teacher at the Perpich Center for Arts Education. âÄúConsider a Perpich visit? Come and write with us? Allison too?âÄù she inquired. Unparalleled adventure ensued, but mostly in the mind. Going back to high school, to me, presents an existential crisis. When I roam the halls, itâÄôs near impossible, and often painful, to remember the 17-year-old girl who once stood there. What was she like? How embarrassed am I to have been her? Memories of high school arenâÄôt usually called upon with such vivid sensory explosions. From the moment we entered the front door of the building, I couldnâÄôt reconcile anything thatâÄôd shaped me as a person in the six years since graduation. And the fact that it was spring break made me that much more detached from reality. In my current cognitive psychology class, weâÄôre learning about the intricacies of memory and various biases in recalling episodic information. The consistency bias is one, and it causes us to view past events as if they happened to the person we are now. We canâÄôt fathom seeing the world through a lens that doesnâÄôt include our updated body of knowledge because the concept of multiple versions of the same person is a metaphysical conundrum. Which is why it was so hard for me to stare directly into the eyes of my adolescent self. This strange rupture in the space-time continuum was exacerbated in the literary arts classroom. I remembered days when IâÄôd sat in those same seats as a high school student, watching alumni speak and pondering the depths of their sage wisdom. Now that alumna was me, and I became overtly aware of how ill-equipped I felt to be masquerading as a role model. The teacher who taught me most of what I know about crafting stories sat down next to Nick and me, introduced us and said, âÄúTake it away, you two.âÄù My mouth went dry and my face turned red. âÄúUm, Nick, go for it,âÄù I muttered. He had prepared a storytelling prompt to help the class eradicate unnecessary details in their writing. We were all to partner up, tell stories orally and self-edit before a retelling to the entire class. This would come later, but our preparedness to promote poignant brevity loomed heavy as we tried to tell a room of expectant high school juniors who we were and why we deserved to be there. My apparent way of dealing with insecurities was to give unsolicited advice like some sort of dying big-sister character. But surprisingly enough, they took note, smiling and nodding in what looked like true sincerity. That is when I realized the power of perception, both for me and for them. In their eyes, IâÄôd made it through the trenches that they were currently engulfed in. Anything IâÄôd done after high school, including being old enough to buy alcohol, was nearly awe-inspiring. Throughout my journey toward an undergraduate degree, IâÄôve felt like I canâÄôt speak on maturity and growth until I don a cap and gown. But that feeling is in fact ludicrous, as well as common, ongoing and independent of circumstance or accreditation. No matter how far we have yet to go in our educations, what weâÄôve learned so far has immense value that others may find enlightening. And itâÄôs important to acknowledge, for sanityâÄôs sake, that weâÄôve made strides along our lifespan. The storytelling exercise was a window into the 17-year-old psyche, as well as my own. Each story reflected a deep-seated Americana mindset. They spoke of gas station loitering, parental intervention and categorizing people according to their style of dress, which is not to say that this worldview is invalid, but rather a rite of passage that I felt relieved to have moved on from. There were, however, similarities in our thought processes, and they were just as striking. What remained constant in most of our stories, regardless of age, was the way they were told. The overwhelming sense of self-importance that fuels the ability to tell a story, any story, coupled with the crippling self-doubt that injected a waver into all of our voices. And I started to see that this yin-yang relationship of opposing forces is permanent and necessary, but that self-awareness can cure a glaring imbalance, which can only come in time. The students asked questions, which all bared the theme, âÄúHow did you make it through high school?âÄù The only answer I had to give was sad yet liberating: âÄúI have no idea âĦâÄù Another memory bias is that of rosy retrospection, or the tendency to cast aside negative details in favor of warm fuzzies and aching nostalgia. And then it clicked. The same thing is happening right now. Six years down the road, I wonâÄôt remember my daily struggle to find an affordable parking spot on campus, nor the succession of painful sleepless nights to write academic research papers. What will survive is an overarching feeling of accomplishment. After class, our teacher took us out for drinks and spoke to us like peers. I told her of my revelations and how there appears to be no point at which wisdom magically enters and becomes appropriate to dispense. She looked me deep in the eyes and said, âÄúItâÄôs clear how far youâÄôve come.âÄù Allison Fingerett welcomes comments at [email protected].