Six months ago, during a typical blisteringly cold February in Palo Alto, California, (that’s a joke) I stumbled across an article on my Facebook feed entitled, “11 Reasons People Who Followed All The Rules As Teenagers Have The Most Fun As Adults.”
First I chuckled.
Then I cringed.
Immediately after I finished the article–which I encourage you to read here before continuing–I began writing what would eventually amount to a rather passionate 3,000 word response. I had every intention of posting it to the blog as soon as I had polished it off for a final draft; Now, half a year later, all I can think is how glad I am I never found the time to do so. At the time I had written the piece, I thought I had let my blood reduce to a steady simmer—in retrospect, I see it was still very much at a torching boil. And yet, I still agree with everything my furious newly 19 year-old self had to say. But I’d like to say it in different words.
The following is a thorough revision of my original draft from February 2015. It is still ridden with bias, but that’s because it’s a personal reflection. Duh.
An author more judgemental than Judy
The author of the article 11 Reasons People Who Followed All The Rules As Teenagers Have The Most Fun As Adults essentially asserts that those who were never a “goody-two-shoes” in high school, as she herself puts it, suffer a multitude of disadvantages as adults in the “real world”. This particular self-beheld angel achieves such an outrageous claim by effectively shaming the hell out of anybody who “broke the rules” by not completely abstaining from drinking, partying, or being otherwise rambunctious in their teenage years.
For me, hearing the author’s shameful tone play back in my head as I read along was like stepping into a time machine…
Barrington High and “The Club”
My high school experience led me to belive that you could either be a sober, “goody two shoes” one hundred percent of the time, or a party animal one hundred percent of the time. Socially, there simply was no spectrum. My high school peers may disagree with me, but in my opinion, the way one particular student group was run contributed largely to this unfortunate climate.
Like many other large public high schools, BHS had a student group dedicated to promoting sobriety among students. Let’s call it “The Club.” Only 100% sober students were allowed to join “The Club.” They were also the only ones allowed to attend The Club’s events without being viewed as a hypocrite. Right off the bat, this exclusivity left students like me who chose to drink in high school believing we should feel corrupt and inadequate. It also created a stark and nasty in-group, out-group divide throughout the school.
There were the highly moral sober members of the organization, and the highly immoral non-members. Just as you were either in the group or you were out, you were either sober or you weren’t. You couldn’t just chill in the middle with an occasional casual beer. At least that’s the way “The Club” made it seem.
And when our social identification ideologies polarized, our actions followed suit.
My high school years were crazy, Dear Reader. Like, crazier than college, by far. At the time, I thought it’s who I truly was. Who knows if it was for certain, but in retrospect, I see that it was largely who my peers told me I had to be. With every whisper, rumor and shred of gossip, they put me in a bucket labeled “partier,” and I went with it. If I could go back in time I would tell myself that I truly did have a choice.
If I could go back in time I would tell myself that I truly did have a choice.
In addition to driving perfectly normal kids like myself to the ends of the sober to psycho spectrum, The Club’s exclusivity directly taught the student body that kids who choose to break the rules and kids who choose to abide by them cannot and should not hang out together. On a deeper level, it taught us that you cannot respect other people’s way of life if it’s not your own.
For the most part, both rule-breaking and rule-abiding groups were incredibly defensive of their lifestyles. Like, to a stupid degree. There were times I poked fun at the sober kids in high school. Yes, I actually made fun of people for not drinking. Ridiculous, I know. Looking back I wish I could take back everything I said, because it was their right to not drink/party just as much as it was mine to do so. But at the time, I felt I needed to defend my lifestyle to these people because they had so obviously placed themselves on a pedestal above me. As a result, The Club’s teachings became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Partiers hung out with partiers and sober kids hung out with sober kids because no matter what, the other group just didn’t get it. (And at that point, didn’t care to.)
The Club’s teachings became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Partiers hung out with partiers and sober kids hung out with sober kids because no matter what, the other group just didn’t get it.
The worst part about all of this is that The Club’s policies led me to believe that I could never truly befriend a peer who had decided to follow all the rules. I was taught that I would have nothing in common with those people, and that they wouldn’t respect my choices.
To this day, I believe the latter would have been true.
Enter: Mr. Stanley Arillaga Ford
Actually, enter me at Stanley Arillaga Ford. (That’s Stanford, by the way.) Mr. Ford has a wonderful way of spinning you on your head and making you see the world from a totally different perspective, if you let him.
It was during one of the dopey informative-yet-funny-introduction-to-college-life skits performed at New Student Orientation 2014 that I heard a line that flipped me on my head for good. I’ll never forget the words:
“If you want to drink, cool. If you don’t want to drink, cool.”
EARTH SHATTERING STUFF, RIGHT?
Okay, maybe not now. But it was at the time.
Despite their simple sentence structure, these words jump-started the revelation that made my first year in college the best year of my life. I realized, starting that very moment, that things didn’t have to be as cut and dry as my high school made them out to be. I could choose to drink and still be respected by sober kids. Likewise, I could choose to drink and respect those sober kids in return! What a f*cking concept!
It didn’t take long for me to discover that this general lack of sh*ts to give is characteristic of the entire Stanford social environment. On The Farm, people are accepting of each other’s lifestyles, even if they themselves don’t practice it. There are lots of people at Stanny who are heavy drinkers and lots who are completely sober. And there are lots—LOTS—who fall somewhere in between. But at the end of every day (er—beginning of every morning?) nobody gives a flying f*ck what you do, because, to be honest, we have bigger things to be worrying about. (Can I get a hell yeah Stanford?)
My Cardinal Knights in Shining Armor
Now Stanford, too, has an organization whose purpose is to create and promote alcohol-free programming. It’s called Cardinal Nights, and they are everything “The Club” at BHS could have been. First of all, their event programming is freaking sweet. Last year alone they brought a hypnotist to campus, gave away free food on a regular basis, held tons of exclusive movie screenings, brought kids to trampoline jumpy places, sports games, concerts, and more all for free or highly subsidized prices.
But the absolute best thing about Cardinal Nights is that anybody can attend, including students who may decide to drink tomorrow but want to stay sober tonight. They would never turn away a student trying to get in on a night of sober fun.
No exclusivity. No moral hierarchy. (One more hoo-rah for Stanny, please.)
By encouraging everyone to get in on the experience, Cardinal Nights retaught me that sober fun can be great fun. The Club at BHS had the opportunity– HAS the opportnity still– to teach this same lesson to students of all backgrounds by adopting the Stanford culture of mutal respect. Had they done so and been as welcoming to me, a rule-breaker, as Stanny was when I started my freshman year, I would have spent a lot less time trying to validate my life choices and a lot more time making new friends… and honestly, staying sober.
Had The Club been more like Cardinal Nights, I would have spent a lot less time trying to validate my life choices and a lot more time staying sober.
Now back to this stupid article
“11 Reasons People Who Followed All The Rules As Teenagers Have The Most Fun As Adults” was a total throwback. As I read the words on the screen, I could feel the author judging me, categorizing me, shaming me. It was high school all over again.
Now I could take the time to write out a full rhetorical analysis on this article. I could argue why this list of reasons people who followed all the rules as teenagers have more fun as adults implies far more than just 11 outdated, pessimistic stereotypes that generalize an entire generation. I could talk about how the author holds those who played by the rules in high school at a higher moral standing than those who chose not to and how she also implies that the rule-breakers amount to nothing more than obtaining their own private jail cell and a raging case of alcoholism.
Or, I could just redirect you to my four favorite list items from the article, faithful that you’re smarter than a pile of rocks…
- “You have a great relationship with your parents” (#2)
- “You have far fewer shameful drinking stories” (#4)
- “You’re going to be an excellent parent” (#7)
- “You know who your friends are” (#11)
…to all of which I, as cool-headedly as possible, do cordially respond: F*CK YOU, Emma Lord. I drank in high school and now I’m at Stanford, b*tch.
Respect other people and their life choices goddammit. Nobody should shame a kid for having a bloody PBR and nobody should shame a kid for choosing to sober rage with EANABs.
But that’s just me, DR. You’re more than welcome to disagree. In fact, please let me know what you think! If we get enough feedback, I’d be happy to create a “Your Thoughts On ___” post like this one.
Total tangential side note: Look at this RIDICULOUS gif I found while searching for a feature image to go along with this post.
Death 2 da h8rz,
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