It’s prom/graduation season, which means that wherever you look on TV there’s an almost fetishistic obsession with these rites of passage. On 16 and Pregnant, Danielle Cunningham sounded more upset about missing out on her senior year with her friends than about the fact that she suddenly had a new baby that she’d be responsible for for the next eighteen years or so. On Glee, Quinn announced, “you can get married as many times as you like — you only have one shot at your junior prom.” Movies from Can’t Hardly Wait to American Pie are all about admitting to your crush that you love them before everybody heads off to college and how high school is some kind of important metaphor for the rest of our lives.
Why the fixation on high school? In America, it’s probably the closest thing we have to a universal experience – not everyone goes to college, and not everyone works in an office, but high school (or at least some of it) is required by law. Therefore, it’s easy to pull from high school experiences, as if they’re a sort of collective memory, and make them into something else. But more often, people who wish they could change something about high school and relive it another way create movies and TV shows where their characters do exactly that, and the obsession with high school as the end-all of American existence is outdated and condescending. And senior year in particular is the culmination of that obsession, with the prom serving as a mirror to the human soul. Yes, high school was fun. The prom was great. But you know what else is awesome? The entire rest of your life.
Suppose you live to be 70 years old. If you do, that means you will have another 52 years of your life that come after high school. And if high school is as good as it gets, then you’re in for 52 pretty depressing years. Being Homecoming Queen – or, for that matter, the most unpopular kid in school – has so little bearing on the rest of your life. If you don’t think you have the potential for improvement, for betterment, and for continued happiness, it’s pretty difficult to come up with a reason to keep waking up every day. Thinking that the best parts of your life are already over doesn’t inspire you to greatness or push you to try something new. Instead, you turn into Al Bundy on Married with Children, obsessively clinging to and reliving his high school football glory as a way to avoid acknowleding that his present life is miserable.
I’m ten years out of high school now. While homework and grades and curfew aren’t much of a concern for me anymore, there are plenty of other things to keep me busy. (Writing things on the internet for this here website being chief among them, of course.) But here’s some pretty fun adults-only non-prom-related stuff I do on a fairly regular basis: walk around barefoot and drinking a beer in my apartment, which I pay for and my mom isn’t around to tell me to clean up; have sex with my boyfriend in said apartment instead of in a car backseat somewhere; take cool vacations to places I never would have been allowed to go to when I was 17. It just keeps going on and on, and it just keeps getting better and better. And I sometimes get to wear cute poofy dresses, but without having to find a matching corsage or worry that my archnemesis is going to show up wearing the same thing.
As my mom once told me, “Don’t peak early.” She was right, obviously. And when I’m her age, I’ll probably be right about a lot of shit too.