When I was in high school, I was a painful (or pain in the a**) overachiever. I know many students can relate to the pressure to be a circus act and a show pony -- juggling academics, social lives, sleep (sometimes), and a laundry list of clubs and sports. I did well academically but truly flourished in my extracurricular activities. I started out on the soccer team and a part of the student government.
By the end of my high school career, I was President of the Environmental Club, leader of the student life committee on Student Government, co-editor of the literary magazine, one-act writer and director, singer in the all-female acapella group, and tour guide to prospective students. As a senior, I was a part of all these groups while also holding a part time job, practicing yoga, and trying out belly dance. I had filled a leadership vacuum and worked avidly to develop community alongside my peers and my teachers. All I wanted to do was give back to the community that had built me up and gave me endless opportunities.
My involvement in school clubs was not smooth sailing. My mission, especially as it pertained to the environment, was a thankless job. I reflect on how I had to grow, be resilient, and smile through pain in order to get the job down and I consider it well worth my time. The challenges and difficulties I faced in striving to make positive change was met with push-back from students and teachers alike as well as the cruelty from my peers. I learned that all people are resistant to change especially if it involves more work. People did not appreciate the ways I tried to stir the pot.
As a part of my environmental work, I went to the faculty meeting to propose doing away with trays one day a week in the cafeteria. I got many questions and huffing and puffing, but they were willing to try it out even with their concerns and hesitations. At least they were respectful about it, only giving me a bit of a hard time. After tray-less Tuesdays began, many teachers came up to me and told me that they expected it to be far more difficult than it was. They were pleasantly surprised.
Students were annoyed that they could not pile on all their food. In turn, I got the reputation of being an annoyance. While middle schoolers were composting and acting more mindful, high schoolers were rolling their eyes. High School is one of the harder times in life to get people to think about more than just themselves. Repeating the benefits of less water for cleaning trays and less waste because people wouldn't be able to throw food on the tray and instead would have to use plates did not help the cause. My initiative, being less than welcomed in my school, led people to listen to me less and react more to anything I did.
All the anger and frustration those in my graduating class had towards me and my goals, culminated in my junior year when I was asked by another girl in my class to help stand up to the boys in my class and their "alpha-male, sexist, bully" ways. There was an area where juniors would sit, lounge, and gather, but often times girls were found sitting on the floor or on the laps of the boys.
The girl in my class wanted to change that and take that power away from the boys by getting all the girls in the grade to take turns during their free periods sitting in those chairs so the boys would experience what happens to girls.
But of course, this was not a perfect plan even with the support of a few teachers. Instead of girls talking about better ways to take a stand or expressing how they didn't feel like it was an issue so why bother, girls forwarded the e-mail to the boys and my 17-year-old self felt like all hell broke lose. I got harassing e-mails and comments in class. I took it. I wanted to be in solidarity with the girl in my grade who was so apologetic about the whole thing. Nothing ended up happening. Just an experiment gone wrong and disappointment when girls turn on each other and boys abuse their privilege.
These two instances were both helpful and harmful. Even though in many circles I was respected and some listened to me, I stayed quiet when I wasn't pushing my initiatives so as not to draw more attention to myself. It was disheartening to experience disapproval of my peers.
Now, I am mostly excited when I see people from my high school posting about environmental issues and social justice issues, there is also a hint of sadness because while I was fighting for the future, I was isolated and on my own no matter how hard I tried to bring people in.
Nobody wanted my fate, especially not in High School.
While I see them taking a more active stance on social media today, I see how the labels I listened to about myself and the lack of support make me less active on issues that used to embolden me. I am more cautious in everything I do. I think through the outcomes of my actions and pick my battles so as to avoid my fears of being ostracized. But that's no way to live. I am still finding my voice so I can use it again.
I know I received a stellar education. I am proud to see that my class of 2012 classmates can change and grow. I believe that is thanks to the education they received. Many went off to exceptional colleges and universities, and I can only imagine that they found inspiration, frustration, and the need for change as I did in High School. I hope they are also walking the walk of their newfound anger in injustice and inequity.