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Why You Truly Never Leave High School

Why You Truly Never Leave High School New science on its corrosive, traumatizing effects.

Throughout high school, my friend Kenji had never once spoken to the Glassmans. They were a popular, football-­playing, preposterously handsome set of identical twins (every high school must have its Winklevii). Kenji was a closeted, half-Japanese orchestra nerd who kept mainly to himself and graduated first in our class. Yet last fall, as our 25th high-school reunion was winding down, Kenji grabbed Josh Glassman by his triceps—still Popeye spinach cans, and the subject of much Facebook discussion afterward—and asked where the after-party was. He was only half-joking.

Psychologically speaking, Kenji carries a passport to pretty much anywhere now. He’s handsome, charming, a software engineer at an Amazon subsidiary; he radiates the kind of self-possession that earns instant respect. Josh seemed to intuit this. He said there was an after-party a few blocks away, at the home of another former football player. And when Kenji wavered, Josh wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I could see there was no going back,” Kenji explained the next morning, over brunch. “It was sort of like the dog who catches the car and doesn’t know what to do with it.”

The party was fine. For a while, Kenji wondered if he’d been brought along as a stunt guest—a suspicion hardly allayed by Josh’s announcement “I brought the valedictorian!” as they were descending the stairs to their host’s living room—though Kenji’s attendance was in the same spirit, really, just in reverse. (“This is the party I never got invited to in high school,” he told Josh at one point, who didn’t disagree.) At any rate, Kenji didn’t care. His curiosities were anthropological: He had no idea what it was like “to be a football player or a cheerleader, get out of high school, marry someone from your local area, and settle in the same area.” And his conclusion, by the end of the night, was: Nothing special. “It was just an ordinary party, one that might have been a little uncomfortable if we all hadn’t been a little drunk.”

You’d think Kenji’s underwhelmed reaction would have been reassuring. But another classmate of ours, also at that brunch, didn’t take it that way. Like Kenji, Larry was brilliant, musically gifted, and hidden behind awkward glasses during most of his adolescence; like Kenji, he too is attractive and successful today. He received a Tony nomination for the score of Legally Blonde, he has a new baby, he married a great woman who just happens to be his collaborator. Yet his reaction was visceral and instantaneous. “Literally?” he said. “Your saying this makes me feel I wish I’d been invited to that.”

“Well, right,” said Kenji. “Because that’s the way high school is.”

“And maybe the way life is, still, sometimes,” said Larry. “About wanting to be invited to things.” He’s now working on a musical adaptation of Heathers, the eighties classic that culminates, famously, in Christian Slater nearly blowing up a high school.

Not everyone feels the sustained, melancholic presence of a high-school shadow self. There are some people who simply put in their four years, graduate, and that’s that. But for most of us adults, the adolescent years occupy a privileged place in our memories, which to some degree is even quantifiable: Give a grown adult a series of random prompts and cues, and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence. This phenomenon even has a name—the “reminiscence bump”—and it’s been found over and over in large population samples, with most studies suggesting that memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained. (Which perhaps explains Ralph Keyes’s observation in his 1976 classic, Is There Life After High School?: “Somehow those three or four years can in retrospect feel like 30.”)

To most human beings, the significance of the adolescent years is pretty intuitive. Writers from Shakespeare to Salinger have done their most iconic work about them; and Hollywood, certainly...

by Anonymousreply 1202/07/2013

I hated high school and was glad when it was over

by Anonymousreply 102/07/2013

I'm kind of a minimalist on Facebook for the same reason. Seeing too much of adults playing out the same dynamics from high school. Wanting to be Friended and Liked. To constantly prove one's life is Happy and Awesome-Filled.

by Anonymousreply 202/07/2013

High school - been there, done that, moved on.

by Anonymousreply 302/07/2013

shreeeeeeeee eeeeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee eeeeeeee K

by Anonymousreply 402/07/2013

What R3 said. Didn't hate high school, didn't love it.

by Anonymousreply 502/07/2013

High School never ends.

People only seem to to mature.

Never confuse more experiences with more experience.

I can go from meeting to meeting where the HS dynamic is fully engaged.

Being an adult takes LOTS of work but the bottom line in life is:

It is better to be liked than to be right.

by Anonymousreply 602/07/2013

This piece doesn't make me think about high school.

It makes me think "Someone got paid to write this?!"

by Anonymousreply 702/07/2013

Boarding school in 11th and 12th grade was actually an emotionally reparative experience for me. If anything I'm haunted by the love and closeness that we had for those two years and that I've never found anywhere else.

by Anonymousreply 802/07/2013

I agree that we never really leave high school. You have the same bitchy, back stabbing reindeer games in the working world. The only difference is adults have honed their skills through experience, so they become experts at it. Their shenanigans are more devious, sophisticated and covert.

by Anonymousreply 902/07/2013

I generally like New York magazine fine, but I am not surprised at all to see an article about adults not leaving the high school mentailty behind there.

by Anonymousreply 1002/07/2013

Me too, R7 - I wish I had!

by Anonymousreply 1102/07/2013

Some more navel-gazing from a New York-centric waaaaa crying jag point of view.

Jesus, when will people fucking grow up?

What next for the writer? The kindergarten effect? "The Never-Ending Blanket Issue"

by Anonymousreply 1202/07/2013
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