Breaking free from the high school stereotypes


Graphic by Charlotte Alden.

By Rebecca Hirsh

The popular girls travel in cliques, walking into school together in a line and pretending not to realize everyone’s eyes are on them. After school, they go to cheer practice in full uniform, flashing quick smiles and small waves to the jocks at football practice. And it’s almost guaranteed that the quarterback is dating the head cheerleader.

This is the picture I had of high school growing up. High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Camp Rock and Gossip Girl depicted an idealized and exaggerated version of what the coveted four years of high school would be like.

But it didn’t take me long to figure out how different high school is from that image, both for better and for worse. On the screen, high school employs a strict social hierarchy: cheerleaders and jocks on top and “nerds” on the bottom, with no exceptions. As these shows and movies progress, often one of those nerds from the bottom climbs the hierarchy and becomes popular, forgetting him or herself in the process. Eventually, they often become comfortable in their skin. On the other end of the pyramid, the jock or cheerleader realizes they don’t have to be mean to be cool, and they start pursuing their true passions.

Real life is not that extreme. Yes, groups have reputations and everyone has their friends and circles, but they’re not written in stone. Athleticism doesn’t guarantee popularity, and studious high-achievers don’t automatically have no social life.

For the most part, the difference between these groups is not as crystal clear either; there’s heavy overlap between social strata. I might only hang out with a core group of friends outside of school, but due to changing classes throughout the day, I not only know almost everyone in my grade, but I’m friends with people from groups other than my own.

There are also inconsistencies between Whitman and movie portrayals of high school on a smaller scale. Students at Whitman don’t use lockers. Not every student invariably hates school and their classes. Notes aren’t passed to invite people to parties that weekend. The majority of high schoolers aren’t actually in a relationship. And there’s definitely not enough time between classes for a casual stroll with friends to discuss the latest gossip.

Not everything on the screen is ideal. There are some things that I prefer about attending Whitman and not East High. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious what it would be like if we all broke out into choreographed song and dance every day, but I’m glad I can go through a day without stressing that I’ll slip on some milk in the cafeteria and send nachos flying into Sharpay’s chest.

I expected my life to change drastically when I stepped into the main hallway at the start of freshman year. But nothing really changed. I, along with everyone else, am just trying to get through these four years. In the end, I think High School Musical got one thing right: we really are all in this together.