Many popular students approach graduation day with bittersweet nostalgia: excitement for the future is tempered by fear of lost status. But as cap-and-gown season nears, let’s also stop to consider the outcasts, students for whom finishing high school feels like liberation from a state-imposed sentence.
In seven years of reporting from American middle and high schools, I’ve seen repeatedly that the differences that cause a student to be excluded in high school are often the same traits or skills that will serve him or her well after graduation.
Examples abound: Taylor Swift’s classmates left the lunch table as soon as she sat down because they disdained her taste for country music. Last year, the Grammy winner was the nation’s top-selling recording artist.
Students mocked Tim Gunn’s love of making things; now he is a fashion icon with the recognizable catchphrase “Make it work.”
J.K. Rowling, author of the bestselling “Harry Potter” series, has described herself as a bullied child “who lived mostly in books and daydreams.” It’s no wonder she went on to write books populated with kids she describes as “outcasts and comfortable with being so.”
For many, says Sacred Heart University psychology professor Kathryn LaFontana, high school is the “first foray into the adult world where [kids] have to think about their own status.” And for teenagers, says LaFontana, who studies adolescent peer relationships and social status, “the worst thing in the world is to be different from other people; that’s what makes someone unpopular.”