SHEENA BARNETT: High school lessons continue after graduation

SHEENA BARNETT

SHEENA BARNETT

I’m convinced the only way to travel on High School Memory Lane is on that creepy boat ride Willy Wonka takes his guests on in the original “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

You know the ride: Weird, psychedelic scenes play out around the riders as Wonka sings, “Not a speck of light is showing/so the danger must be growing.”

There are plenty of funny movies about the high school experience, and sure, high school can be funny. But few TV shows or movies have captured high school for what it really is: constant awkwardness, accentuated with peaks of glory and valleys of dread and terror, either on the field or in the classroom.

I know I give it probably too much credit, but I always liked that my favorite TV show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” took actual high school situations but made them supernatural. No matter how far-fetched it got, you could still relate to it.

The fictional school literally sat on the mouth of hell – and come on, what high school student doesn’t think their high school is exactly that?

A student who felt like no one noticed her actually became invisible.

Buffy’s mom’s new boyfriend doesn’t just seem evil – he’s an evil robot.

In one of my favorite episodes, “Earshot,” Buffy and her friends suspect a fellow student, Jonathan, is planning a school shooting (eerily enough, the Columbine massacre happened a week before this episode was set to air, so it was bumped until later that fall).

Jonathan brings a gun to school, but he doesn’t plan to kill anyone but himself. Buffy doesn’t know this when she stops him and delivers a powerful speech, but her words still make a difference.

What she said to him changed my life as a nearly 16-year-old, and changed how I saw high school: “Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they’re too busy with their own.”

She knows this because she spent much of the episode being able to read thoughts – long story, take my word for it. “The beautiful ones, the popular ones, the guys that pick on you, everyone,” she tells Jonathan. “If you could hear what they’re feeling – the confusion, the loneliness. It looks quiet down there. It’s not. It’s deafening.”

I watch this episode more than I should probably admit, but recently it hit home a little too much.

I realize most of us are out of high school, but are we ever really that far away from those insecurities we still had when we were 16?

Often it’s hard to see someone else’s struggle because we’re too wrapped up in our own, feeling like we’re not smart enough, fit enough, outgoing enough, whatever.

Buffy’s words had such an impact on me at 16, and made me more empathetic to my fellow classmates. Now at 30, it’s done the same again. It’s a good reminder to cut myself, and everyone else, a bit of slack here and there.

Maybe we’re not so far away from high school or the scary ride down High School Memory Lane, but keeping that thought in mind keeps some of those old insecurities at bay.

SHEENA BARNETT is a staff writer. Contact her at sheena.barnett@journalinc.com.