I used to hate high school, here is why I was wrong


Annie Le

My graduation attire, which now represents a bittersweet goodbye to childhood.

High school to me used to just be another stage of life to trudge through gruelingly, slowly and painstakingly. Since that first day of freshman year, I had been living in the future, thinking about what I needed to do to prepare myself for the next year, then what I would need to do to achieve a certain GPA, then what I would need to do to appeal to colleges.

I was 14 years old, living too fast, never stopping to smell the roses. As such, I hated high school. I had friends I loved and grades I was proud of, but I never actually felt alive; I was a breathing mechanical machine.

I turn 18 in two days, but it only truly sunk in that from graduation forward, I would no longer have the liberty of childhood when I ran into a man named Brian at my local Super-Walmart.

I had known Brian in my sophomore year of high school. At the time, he was a 17-year-old boy who had just completed basic training for the Army over the summer. Brian was in my fourth-period Journalistic Expression class to fulfill his last graduation requirements — he was the definition of charisma.

I didn’t even know that I had grown to look forward to seeing him in fourth period when he and I became friends. Admittedly, not the greatest mindset in the world, he never took anything in his senior year too seriously as his senioritis set in a bit early. But it was that untroubled energy that made him such a comfortable presence to me.

In the middle of class, Brian would pull up pictures from basic training and explain them, scrolling through the album proudly. He would sit behind me as our teacher spoke, munching quietly on snacks that I no longer wanted. And at the end of the year, he would go on to sign the school newspaper I had used as a make-shift yearbook in misspelled words, “Dear Astrophysist you nerd.”

Brian graduated in 2019 that same school year, never to be seen by me again. Until last month.

As I was speeding through the multitudes upon multitudes of aisles in the Super-Walmart on 75th, I was unexpectedly stopped when I heard, “Annie?”

I turned around, and behind a mask, I saw the eyes of — “Brian?”

I had somewhere to be but decided that I wanted to stick around for a few moments. I think that that was the first time I ever truly stopped. I stopped thinking so fast, stopped living so fast, stopped to smell the roses and catch up with an old friend.

In the half-hour or so that I stood there talking to him, I learned that Brian was going to UIC and planning to continue on to graduate school — he’s now “much better of a student in college than in high school.”

I learned that Brian had experienced jumping out of a military aircraft in full gear by then and was nearly deployed to Afghanistan and Africa but that things changed after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian had become a bright and exuberant young man. He had grown up and was in an entirely new stage of his life.

But it was when I asked about his high school girlfriend that it fully dawned on me just how much he had grown.

“We’re still together! She’s in school to be a nurse — she’s actually my soon-to-be fiancée,” he said.

I was instantly thrown back into my sophomore year. I remembered when he told me that he had asked her to homecoming and began dating shortly afterward. I remembered when he would talk about her, smiling, saying how much he loved her, and now he was going to propose to her.

It felt so long ago, and I realized then how much I had grown up too in the meantime. Without even noticing, I had sped through high school, wishing for the grind to stop and finally be done; but now I wish that I had slowed down for just a moment.

Brian had created an entire life in the same years that have felt like a blur to me.

I don’t think I actually, genuinely hated high school; I hated how much I cared.

Having now slowed down enough to think more clearly about it, I will miss high school. I’ll miss my friends, I’ll miss the classroom setting, I’ll miss staring out the window in boredom and I’ll even miss the crowded hallways. As I prepare to graduate, I’ll miss the liberty of childhood that I never took advantage of.

Caring about your grades and your work is good only to an extent. Don’t ever care so much that you forget to stop and smell the roses.