By Cadence Baker
I’ve taken dance classes at my school for two years now. Every morning of sophomore year, I’d wake up bright and early, change into my all-black dance clothes, and furiously throw myself into whatever combos or techniques we were learning that week. There was a fire in me that wouldn’t cool, and channeling it into my dance class filled me with life and energy. But something changed this year. As I dragged my limbs across the gym floor, practicing my battements with the ferocity of a half-dead fish, I found myself feeling weaker and weaker. I wasn’t dancing; I was an exhausted creature merely existing while dance occurred all around me. I was in it, but I wasn’t living it.
I think a lot of high schoolers live like this. We go through the motions of our school day, show up where we’re required to be (and sometimes we don’t even do that); we watch the clock and wait for this class period or this phase of our life to be over. Maybe we feel bored or unsatisfied with our high school experiences, or that student life restricts us from living out our projected teenage fantasies. Either way, it’s easy to feel disillusioned once you get to high school and the glittery teen rebellion that you watched onscreen as a kid doesn’t line up with your real life. I’ve been there - in fact, I was there all freshman year. But I don’t think we’re doomed to this destiny. Yes, high school is stressful as hell, and your emotions will probably continue to run amok, as they often do at your most hormonal. But who says you can’t enjoy it? It’s true you’re only a teenager once, and for better or for worse, this particular moment in our lives is fleeting. I say we embrace the experience. That vision of sparkling movie-screen youth isn’t so far away, and you don’t need a flying car or a basketball-themed musical number to grasp it for yourself. (I miss Chad from High School Musical. Where did he go?)
Whether you’re brand-new to freshman year or steadily approaching graduation, it’s never too late to ease the ennui of your high school experience. Here are some steps towards making the most of these four years, and maybe even learning to love the place you’re in.
Take classes you actually enjoy. I can’t stress this one enough. Choosing classes that interest and challenge you is fundamental to a positive high school experience. I’m lucky enough to go to a school that offers a wide range of electives, and if your school is similar in this way, I highly recommend you take advantage of it. Curating your class schedule to your liking is easier than you think. Sure, there will always be some classes you HAVE to take (and will probably hate - has anyone ever had a nice freshman health teacher?), but that doesn't mean you can’t enjoy the rest of the day. If you’re an honors student I suggest you take some APs that interest you, but don’t let the College Board guilt you into taking an AP class you can’t stand. One valuable piece of advice - if one single class makes you dread your entire school day, there’s a good chance you can transfer out of it second semester and save yourself some misery.
Make friends… everywhere. I met my best friends in dance class…and French class, and Madrigals, and at a slam poetry contest in the library after school, and at an annual holiday choir show. How could I expect to meet them all in one place? Chances are your school is home to a lot of different kinds of people, with a lot of different perspectives. Why not branch out a little and see what/who you can find? Talk to the cool girl in Photo Club. Ask her if she wants to team up on that group project. When your friend drags you to her Bio class to study, start up a conversation with the boy in the back row. Ask him what a snRNP even is. Give genuine compliments, and always be a little kinder than you have to be. High school can be pretty rough on the soul, and everyone you meet is going through something. Be gracious! Reach out! A little warmth goes a long way.
Pick up hobbies like loose change. I really, really like to stay busy; that means I’m constantly learning new things, and I’m rarely bored. I advise this to anyone who feels dissatisfied or stuck in a monotonous routine - learn something new. Think about what you’re passionate about- maybe you’re into live music, photography, spirituality, nature, a cause you’re really passionate about. Maybe you’d like to go on more hikes, or do some creative writing. I believe deeply in the power of manifestation - if you say you can do it, you absolutely can. Curate the reality around you. Learn to read tarot cards. Get REALLY into movies. Ride a bike to school, or take a new route on your way back. Do a cartwheel. Do a rainbow kick! Go to your local thrift shop and style your friends. Go to school events. Pick up a cheap camcorder or use your phone to make short videos, Mid90s style. Pick up coding, or audio engineering, or graphic design for a local zine. Fair warning - don’t overload yourself. Classes and extracurriculars alone can eat up a lot of your time and energy, so make sure to carve out some time for rest and relaxation alongside your hobbies. Balance is key!
Case it all in glass. Remember when you went to your first middle school dance and your mom insisted on taking a billion pictures before you got in the car? And suddenly, you were surrounded on all fronts by your friend’s moms and their phone cameras, and you didn’t know which camera to smile through your pain at? This mortifying ordeal was just one attempt your well-meaning parents made at capturing your youth, and I suggest you do the same - in a way that won’t cause you anxiety for years to come. These teenage feelings come and go like the weather, and you might find you miss them. The way each new realization feels like an inner revolution, how the intensity of your feelings could move the earth below you - it’s all so distinctly teenage. Write it all down. Keep a journal, if you can. Take pictures - of yourself, your friends, your crushes, your childhood street and neighborhood and the way the leaves fell from the trees. Keep ticket stubs, polaroids, notes passed to you in class. Write down the first date, the first kiss, the breakup, the recovery. Make art. Make out. Be reckless, but take care of yourself. Create a monument to your youth, a sanctuary, a museum. Pin it like a butterfly. This is your adolescence, and you make the rules.
Most of all, try to make the most of it while it lasts. No one expects you to be happy and lively EVERY SINGLE MOMENT of high school - and expecting yourself to will probably end in some disappointment - but those high school blues lend to a lot of growth and a lot of love. There is no better time to stumble and make mistakes and love fully and freely, to open yourself up and learn from the growing pains you experience. Wise Tumblr prophet @/lilcowgirl4 once said “Sadness doesn’t stick. It’s what you do that shapes your life. And I kept doing things, and I shaped my life.” These are words I live by. The fire that kept me dancing is beginning to rekindle these days, and I’m throwing myself into my dance class once again - something I thought I’d never be able to do. High school is the best and the worst place in the world, and for most of us, we’ll be spending quite a bit of our time there. We’ll already have to live through it - now is the time to try and love it, too.