Only two years have passed and I can’t help but notice how much I have grown since high school. In the moment, every little thing feels like it has the capacity to end the world. Every rumor, every fight, every broken heart has the power to leave you questioning yourself for what feels like an entirety.
I look back and laugh at the boy I spent months in despair over. I laugh at the fact I felt the need to wear makeup every single day and straighten my already straight hair. I laugh at the moments I would leave class just to tell my friends the latest gossip because for some reason, Mary’s spray tan was way more important than geometry.
That’s not to say high school was a walk in the park. The emotions are real and the experiences are irreplaceable. There will be some friends who will stand by your side for the rest of your life and some that won’t make it past graduation day and that is okay. The moment I left high school behind, it didn’t matter anymore what Katie wore last Wednesday or what Veronica said in the locker room after gym class. I wish I knew that earlier, and I’d be free from the overwhelming pressures that followed me through high school.
I loved sports. I played soccer for thirteen years, I was a cheerleader, and I even, for some reason, ran track even though I hate to run. I would do anything to lace up my cleats and take the field again or grab my pompoms and spirit finger my way onto the basketball court one last time. The feeling of belonging to team was so rewarding yet so difficult to mimic after graduation.
I didn’t believe anyone when they told me to enjoy it while it lasted. During high school, it felt like it would never end but I wish I took the time to embrace each moment instead of banking on having another. Now already two years through college, I try my best to understand that this isn’t forever either, as much as I want it to be.
I wish I knew it was okay to stay home on a Friday night. I don’t look back and think about that one party I didn’t go to that no one remembers anyways. I wish I knew that sneaking out and getting in a car with someone who was drinking didn’t make me cool, it made me stupid.
I felt the need to fit in. I had a serious fear of missing out. Although I wish I focused more on enjoying each and every moment, it would have been okay to listen to mom once in a while and just stay home. Avoiding the drinking scene and ignoring the pressures wouldn’t have helped me fit in, but it certainly would’ve made me feel smarter. In my life, two men most deserving of a long and happy life have lost their lives to the feeling of invincibility and the ignorance of drinking and driving. The lesson to learn was very clear the first time, and even more painful the second.
The paralyzing fear of not fitting in was something I was never able to overcome until I graduated. I still feel that sometimes, but it doesn’t necessarily drag me down like it used to. Growing out of the feeling that in order to be loved, I need to be accepted by people who really never mattered is an incredibly powerful feeling. I’ve learned not to care as much.
I wish I knew that no one compared me to anyone except for me. I was beautiful long before any lusty teenage boy told me so and I was still beautiful when that same lusty teenage boy told me I was not. After long nights crying in my tiny twin bed and days where I didn’t want to get out of it because I felt as though I wasn’t worthy, I was able to learn that no one deserved to hold that type of power over me. I had to stop relying so heavily on the opinion of others while recognizing that not everyone is going to like me and there’s nothing wrong with that.
I felt the need to wear makeup every day not for the compliments from those lusty teenage boys but instead for the judgmental girls who walked the halls with me. They all wore makeup everyday so I guess I had to, too. The internal pressure lessened my senior year when I realized I wouldn’t have to see over half these people again so I really shouldn’t care. Finding the strength not to care is tough, but one of the most powerful tools I’ve ever learned.
Above all, I’m still learning and growing. Looking back at the little things I stressed over, I realize those were the moments that helped me gain the strength not to care about the opinions of others and focus my concerns on making myself proud. I know it’s okay to stay home once in a while and binge watch The Office when I’m homesick and that no one cares if I don’t wear makeup to class. I let go of the constant pressure to be something and I am not attempting to live up to other people’s expectations for myself. It’s freeing knowing the only person I need to impress is myself. It’s amazing how much can change in such a short amount of time and I plan to embrace each moment of my crazy college career and all that will come after.
Jamie Walsh is a junior at Temple University and a lover of toaster strudel, beluga whales, and all things Joe Biden. She has a passion to write and explore the all possibilities Philadelphia has to offer as a student, a woman, and a dreamer.