When I arrived at high school, I was already a geek. From day one, I started out unpopular in high school.
I wore old Science Olympiad t-shirts from junior high, spoke with a slightly dorky lisp, and actually studied during study hall.
On my very first day of class, I walked into the building with a sunburnt face and arms, courtesy of marching band camp.
Other kids noticed these things, and I could tell.
Whether kids were mocking my voice or teasing me about my nerdiness, I dealt with some light taunting in high school and a lot of feeling left out. There was a clear divide between those who were popular and those who were not.
Much like the high school “types” in The Breakfast Club, popular students talked the talk and walked the walk. They also wore the right clothes, from American Eagle or Hollister, and participated in the right extracurriculars, like sports.
Being popular didn’t mean a student was a bully; most conventionally popular people I met were very nice. However, when I was a freshman in high school, it felt a little like being popular was being a part of an exclusive club.
And gaining entrance to that club wasn’t always easy. Getting B’s and C’s on tests to avoid being mocked for getting straight A’s was a strategy I often implemented. I knew students who stayed in bad relationships to avoid losing a group of popular friends. And there were students who spent exorbitant amounts of money to buy t-shirts with small bird logos on them.
At first it was intimidating. During lunch, cliques of different kinds of students filled table seats. For four straight years, I sat with the band nerds who became some of my best friends. But at the beginning, I was scared of going through school at the bottom of the social ladder and forever being one of the unpopular kids.
I would eat in silence, laughing at other peoples’ jokes without making any of my own. I was afraid of talking to upperclassmen, afraid of embarrassing myself. My social anxiety prevented me from being too social during that first year.
Eventually, I was able to make friends with people who were like me.
We weren’t as outgoing as the cheerleaders and the football players who talked to each other in the hallways, but we would discuss our favorite books and our plans for college.
I forced myself to join extracurriculars that I enjoyed, like marching band, theater, ski club, and academic team. Soon, I made more friends just by showing up to meetings and practices, friends that I still have to this day. After my freshman year passed, I found that I had a big group of friends who were similar to me.
That social ladder I’d imagined was deconstructed. When I became an upperclassman, I finally understood that being popular wasn’t equated with being a certain kind of person. It was more about learning to be myself.