Memorable but not defining: Stop telling adolescents high school will be the best years of their lives

Students+from+the+senior+class+contemplate+whether+their+high+school+experience+has+been+the+best+years+of+their+lives+or+simply+just+a+highlight.

Elizabeth Pischke

Students from the senior class contemplate whether their high school experience has been the best years of their lives or simply just a highlight.

Elizabeth Pischke, Copy Editor

When I was younger, the adults in my life constantly told me my high school years would be my best. Now a high school senior, I can safely say they were wrong. 

The best years of our lives are when we are the happiest having adventures, spending time with amazing people and finding our place in the world. High school is not that at all, and it is about time adults stop telling us it is

High school can provide some great moments, but that does not necessarily mean these years are the best years of our lives. It would also be a beneficial reminder that everyone’s secondary education experience does not mirror the plot of Disney Channel’s “High School Musical,” and no one constantly breaks into a huge dance number whenever success or struggle is found.

As much as my 10-year-old self hoped it would be, my high school years were no “High School Musical,” but despite it not following such a storyline, the four years I have spent within PVHS’s walls have not been horrible.

On the contrary, I have had a pretty positive high school experience that has included three state dance titles, many Division One music awards, good friends and memories I am sure will stay with me for a long time. I am not trying to brag; rather, I am looking at the positives instead of the negatives, or at least trying to.

However, my peers and I not having a horrible time in high school does not translate to those four years being the best of our lives. Maybe if the adults who pushed that idea understood how much has changed since their teenage years they would not push the idea anymore.

Back 50 or so years ago, people hit the fast track after graduating, getting married in their young twenties and starting a family not long after. That rarely happens anymore, and if people actually realized that, then maybe there would not be so much of an issue.

Dr. Ben Waggoner, a biology professor at the University of Central Arkansas, sees the push for this idea because of the experience the older generations had during and after high school. “Back when many Americans went from high school straight into factory work or something like that, it might have been true, in the sense that high school was the last stage of your life before you had to shoulder adult responsibilities,” he explained on a Quora post.

It makes sense this would be the thought process for people who seemingly jump from the bliss of teenage life to adulthood within months. If you know life will get immediately more complicated soon after, why not think of your high school years as the best?

Junior Erika Holmberg also understands where this point of view comes from. “I do believe some people enjoy high school more than others, but in the end, I truly think it comes back to your values as an individual and how you want to view your circumstances,” she said.

But high school, though memorable, is not capable of being the best years of adolescent lives: especially when there is so much left of it after graduating.

While there have been very special moments in my high school career, that is all they are: moments. Right now those moments might be some of the best things to happen to me, but what about in five years? By then, I will hopefully be a college graduate with all new moments and memories that may be ‘the best.’ 

Senior Genevieve McShane agrees it is difficult to label her best years when she knows the future may be even better. “With only being alive for 17 years, I would say that high school and the experiences I’ve had during this time have been the best of my life,” she explained. “However, this will most likely change when I go off to college and have more freedom and new experiences.”

So while people whose secondary education took place 50 years ago may say high school was the best time of their life, it is because they became adults right after graduating. 

That is far from the case today as the road post high school has branched out in many new directions.

According to a report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 66.2 percent of students went to college instead of the workforce after high school, whereas in 1970 only 26 percent of middle class workers pursued an education past high school. 

Many people went straight into the workforce after high school because at the time, most middle class jobs only required a high school diploma. But today, many jobs require more than just high school graduation.

Since less people are becoming working adults straight out of high school, they do not have to put so much pressure on living their best years so soon. 

High school can be fun, yes, but the people who say it is our highlight years clearly do not understand how it is one of the most stressful environments for today’s adolescents.

Because college is more competitive than ever, high school is getting that much harder. The National Center for Education Statistics found between 1990 and 2009, the average amount of college credits high school seniors took jumped from 23.6 to 27.2. 

If the difficulty of school is only increasing, and factors such as more stress and the pressure to get perfect grades piggybacking it, how can those years be considered ‘the best?’

McShane is very familiar with this predicament. “The amount of stress that I have from school has definitely prevented me from having a better experience in high school,” she reflected. “There have been many times when I have wanted to hang out with friends or do something other than homework, but because of the stress of school, I had to stay home and study.”

High school 30 years ago was not as mentally challenging, so of course the people who were in school back then can say their high school careers were highlights of their life. Not as much on their plate allowed for these people to have what they consider the best years of their lives.

“If high school students in the past didn’t take as many honors or AP classes, then yeah they probably had a better high school experience,” McShane continued.

Again, I am not saying my peers and I are having the worst time ever in high school. Both Holmberg and McShane have had great moments during their time at PVHS such as playing at the state golf tournament and making it into the Iowa All-State Music Festival this past fall, respectively.

What I am saying is high school is so early in our lives, and there is so much that goes on during and after that time that prevents us from calling those four years ‘the best’. 

So please, stop telling us high school will be the best years of our lives when we have hardly had a chance to live them.