(Published February 4, 2000 in the Augustana Observer)
Geek awareness: what you were too cool to know
The taunts of my classmates are as real to me today as they were years ago. I remember each name I was called, each party I wasn't invited to, each ride on the bus in which I sat up front with the driver. The years between 4th grade and 12th grade crept by as slowly as they could. Of course, I had my fun moments—there were friends and parties of my own I could enjoy—but even so, something inside of me always felt incomplete. It's sad that someone else’s opinion of me took precedence over my own.And while I knew it was wrong to let this happen, it happened still.
I was a geek. A nerd. A total loser, dude. The only time [classmate] ever talked to me was to cheat on a spelling test. I was on bus patrol. My jeans were never tight-rolled correctly. I stayed home while my classmates drank their way to the top of the social totem pole. I worked at Hallmark the night of my senior prom. I was never given the chance to "Just Say No."
Perhaps you were like me. You too knew what it was like to wait by a phone for an invitation you weren't going to get. People were polite to you, but never invited you over to their houses. You took the abuse people gave you, never having the guts to stand up for yourself. If you were like this, then my message is for you.
Why bring up the past, you ask? To anyone who was on the outside trying to break in, you know why. The stain of geekiness brands you forever, sometimes just in your own eyes. You can be a successful, beautiful, knowledgeable individual with an uncanny sense of humor, but if you see someone who was once a tormentor or idol, you are suddenly the same social outcast in your head that you were once labeled in an ugly school hallway.
Even now, at almost 21, I can't feel comfortable at a party full of "popular" people. It's all in my head, and I know it. But I also know why. If I judge you before I know you, I apologize. I can name you the people to whom I give precedence in doing so, but I accept responsibility for my actions.
"Kids are cruel," people say. The people who say this are probably the same people who socially excluded others in high school. And maybe they did this because their parents did the same thing, and taught it to them. I fear it's an ongoing cycle. My kids might be ostracized one day by the spawn of the same people who did it to me.
MTVs Tabitha Soren said in an interview with Seventeen magazine, "If you're popular in high school, then your life has peaked." At 15, I read this for the first time, and I prayed that it was true. There had to be more out there than what I was seeing. There had to be a light at the end of that orange-carpeted hallway. And there was. It's called high school graduation.
Perspective is everything. I may not ever be a Homecoming Queen, or know what it's like to eat at the popular table full of girls wearing the same outfits, but that's fine by me. I like where I'm at in life. High school sucked, and I won't deny that, but without the experiences I had then and earlier, I would not be the same person. The funny thing about college is that no one cares (at least in the beginning) about who you were in high school. And along with that mindset, I came to realize that it didn't really matter before where the other people were in the social circle of childhood, because in the end, they weren't any further along in life than I was. If Tabitha was right, and I think she was, then I have a much more satisfying life in front of me, rather than behind me.
I know that people change. People mature from what they were once in childhood or adolescence. Perhaps those kids who made me feel like nothing didn’t know that they were doing so. Maybe they did and now know enough to care about it. I hate to think that there would be no progress of any sort with my former classmates. Maybe at our reunion they'll save me a seat at their table and apologize for how they acted. But then again, I’m not holding my breath.
To all the people who made geekdom a true concept, and life a living hell, I speak for the geeks when I say, thanks. Without you, we couldn't have realized our own potential, and we might have been the jerks that you were. Grow up? We've been grown up for a long time; a lot longer than what was required of us. lt's time we met on equal ground. You may have been a shining star once upon a time, but even stars burn out. You were never any better than we were, even if you did put on a good show. Show's over folks, turn in your scripts and props at the door.