In the years leading up to high school, I had already begun to map out detailed plans for how life was going to be like in those four years. I visualized the cliques, wondered about the status of my popularity, questioned the popularity of others, and, ultimately, braced myself for the cruelty that is known in popular culture as The High School Experience.
It never came.
Freshman year came and went, and it took me a good year to look around and figure out that my high school had few, if any, parallels with the high schools depicted in the media. And while there aren't many who are so disillusioned as to believe that high school is just like High School Musical (1, 2, or 3 -- take your pick), far too many teenagers have adopted a Mean Girls-type mentality.
However, the simple truth is that high school is not as bad as a vast majority of society believes. In fact, the reason why so many kids have the stereotypically horrible high school experiences is simply because they allow it to be that way. Resigning oneself to meekly accept the teenage hierarchy, labeling oneself to certain levels in the caste system, and allowing one's actions to be dictated by the mold of social conformity are all ways that students subconsciously make the decision to allow the clique system to infect the high school experience.
While my school appears to be unique in the fact that there is no social hierarchy that is readily accepted by the majority of students, the same idea can be achieved by any student at any school. Put simply, when people stop acknowledging the caste system of high school students, the stereotypical hierarchy will cease to exist. Contrary to popular belief, there is no immediate necessity to have a queen bee, a star jock, and a communal punching bag in the form of a, for lack of a better term, "loser."
Another idea that comes hand-in-hand with the phrase "high school" is that vicious rumors are often spread, causing everyone in the student body to channel a collective hatred towards a single victim, effectively ruining said victim's social life and mental health and, consequently, the rest of his or her life. It all makes for a thrilling plot for Easy A, but isn't quite so hot in real life.
The solution to this problem is actually quite simple. If one is the punch line of any such rumor, a stoic refusal to acknowledge it will derail the course of even the most vicious gossip. Another option is to laugh at the ridiculousness that such an unscrupulous practice can be turned into a career later on in life (celebrity stalking, anyone?).
In all seriousness, it isn't difficult to dispel the less-than-flattering image of us high school kids that is so overwhelmingly popularized and accepted by society. But as one backs away from the Hollywood version of high school, it's easy to see how stereotypes don't become stereotypes unless we allow them to be. For those who attend a high school modeled after Mean Girls, the choice to stray from the path carved out by the media will always be there.
The road less taken can be achieved through something as simple as being friendly to classmates instead of intimidating them, toning down gossip instead of hyping it up, or even basking in the knowledge that we are still in high school and not yet forced to face the real world.
After all, it's up to the individual to make high school their own experience -- not MTV's.