There’s a scene in the movie The Jane Austen Book Club when Prudie accuses her husband Dean of flirting with a girl she used to go to high school with during her mother’s funeral. They are fighting it out in their hotel room afterwards and she is trying to explain how it made her feel to see them together. She talks about how this girl used to treat her in high school and how she was teased by her relentlessly.
Dean says, “High school’s over.” And then Prudie says, “High school’s never over.”
Regardless of what you think of the book and the movie, that is one hell of a line because it is so bloody true. High school is never over because it is such a profound experience for us all that occurs during our formative years. That’s why reunions are so emotional, that’s why friends we made in high school are so special, that’s why memories of our high school days are so vivid.
And that’s why my head has been well and truly scrambled by the process of enrolling my son into the high school I attended, that he will attend next year.
My big sister Marina was enrolling her daughter Giacinata. She and my son Philip will start together which gives us some relief. Our memories of high school are mixed. How can they not be? It’s high school, a place where teenagers and authority and rebellion and hormones collide.
I’m making it sound as though my high school experience was terrible (isn’t everyone’s?) but it wasn’t. It was typical, a mixture of good, bad, great, horrendous, life-changing, life-ruining, all the things high school has always been and still is. That’s why we have movies like Mean Girls, Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion, Old School, American Pie Reunion… and so many episodes of our favourite TV shows.
The memories began in earnest as my son Philip, 12, and I walked to my old high school, a walk that took just 15 minutes but during which we talked about so much. I tried to answer his questions honestly.
Will high school be hard?
What was it like?
Where did you sit?
Will any of my friends come here?
Then we arrived and I scanned the grounds, noting all the changes, the new gates, the demountables that were added in after a building fire that was started on annual Muck Up Day, not during my tenure, a few years after. But I was one of the ones who called the police because I just so happened to be driving to my breakfast radio gig that morning at 3.30am and was shocked to see it well and truly up in flames.
I thought I was hallucinating but no, it was actually happening.
We walked up the driveway and I was struck by how small everything seemed. In my head it was much bigger, more expansive and significant in presence.
A group of prospective families had already formed a large group in the middle of the quadrangle and we waited patiently for a tour and presentation.
We visited the room where I used to have Ancient History. I remember my friend and I getting the same score on a test and the teacher telling her she knew she could do better, but not saying the same to me. I decided to try harder and ended up blitzing it and doing 3 Unit.
We walked through the doorway where I tripped over during my first day and one of the boys yelled out, “Did you have a nice trip?”
I showed Philip the exact place I used to sit during recess and lunch and told him what I used to buy from the tuckshop – salad rolls, chocolate paddle pops, licorice.
My mind flashed back to my semi-stalking of the cutest boy in school. He and his girlfriend used to greet each other so warmly, stand way from everyone and flirt and muck around as I secretly watched them. I never said a word to him during my entire time at that high school. Not one word.
A song that came out during my senior years at high school popped into my head. It was Baby Got Back and we all used to walk around reciting it. So not PC but anything to have some fun and break up the day.
High school is never over. It stays with us. It’s six intense years during which we start off as adolescents and end up grownups. We spend all of our teenage years there. How can it not be such a profound experience for us? How can we not be forever marked by our time there?
I think parents often raise their kids by trying to recreate their good experiences and correct their bad ones and I certainly do that with mine. I try and share all my insights into school, friendships, life, love, all the things they will need as they attempt to figure out who they are, what they want and how to get there.
My son will be attending my high school next year. He’ll be there each and every day, walking the same grounds I walked over twenty years ago, sitting in the same classrooms and being taught by two of the same teachers I had which is extraordinary. Meantime I take comfort in the fact that an old school friend is the vice-principal of the school, another is the Year 10 co-ordinator and I can rest assured that between us he will be well taken care of.
I suppose we can say high school is never over but really, school is never over. We go to school, finish school, then have kids, they start school, finish school, then they have kids and we go back to school to see grandchildren performing and graduating.
From school there is no escape and for the life of me I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe I don’t need to evaluate it. Maybe it is what it is, like many things in life and those vivid memories that become even more intense during high school reunions and trips to old high schools serve as a reminder of how I became who I am and just how far I have come.