The ideas represented within this article are opinions in nature and are solely that of the author. They may not wholly reflect the stance of The Forest Scout newspaper as a publication.
It looks beautiful. It feels beautiful. But do the physical aspects of LFHS trump the social mentality of our high school? Let’s face it, high school is a hard time in everybody’s life. Freshman year you might as well be chopped liver. Although it is presumably like this in many high schools, upperclassmen ignore you and even sophomores try and stay away from the low link on the chain of command. Then, when we move on to 10th grade with a bit more confidence, you seem to have found a solid friend group with only the occasional friend drama. Junior year, however, is perennially tough. Your schedule is packed with a couple hours of homework every night, ACT/SAT tutoring, heightened varsity sports requirements, after school activities, and little to no time to hang out with your friends who are also neck deep in their own commitments. From there, senior year rolls around and you can finally take a bit of breather, supposedly. You still have work to do and college applications to fill out, but the majority of your obligations are front-loaded at the start of the school. At the end of first semester, you can see and feel that the end is near.
These four years fly by. In speaking with alumni, the sentiment of, “where did the time go?” is common as soon as they graduate and speculation as to why they spent the best years of their lives with their noses in books occurs. Of course, this is not true for all high school students as some young men and women succeed in having fun while balancing their schoolwork.
Now, as busy and chaotic as high school can be, we all need to take a step back and make sure our morals, which are ultimately most important, are in check. Have you ever thought about the kid who may be new to our school who sits alone at lunch? Or that freshman in your class who is surrounded by older kids in a higher level class? Or even a senior who may not have many friends in their classes? Do you walk over and talk to them? Or do you wait until someone else does? We must consider how these people perceive LFHS. It is more than just the opinion of a few, select students who seem to succeed socially, academically, and in extracurriculars. The high school experience of every student must be considered when evaluating our social culture, especially those who have had tremendously more difficult circumstances than the average student.
Being a new student can be brutal, especially when trying to meet new people and fitting in to friend groups that have been long established since the days of DPM, LBMS, SMS, and NSCD. For those of you from smaller middle schools: remember the social challenge of the first few weeks of high school? Now imagine trying to relive that difficulty as a junior or senior. These situations often put pressure on the new student to have to take on the task of going up to people and introducing themselves, which, in reality, is quite daunting. In an interview with a student who chose to remain anonymous, who was new to LFHS going in to her senior year, was asked how Lake Forest is different from where she lived prior.
“There isn’t much variety here and everybody has a very similar, uniform look it seems,” she added. “It seems like everyone tries to fit into a cookie-cutter image at times. I know this doesn’t account for everyone–I get that–but I have certainly noticed it.” Her first impressions of LFHS was that she, “felt alone because it was very hard to fit in and find my place amongst the students. I didn’t fit into the traditional Lake Forest feel.” I then asked if this was still her impression after a few months. “I have gotten used to it and I can tolerate it now, but I still feel a little out of it. Maybe that’s my fault for not extending myself more.” This new senior also explained that on her first day at LFHS, zero people came up to her and introduced themselves. Although she was very connected to people through social media, she still had trouble fitting in and finding friends in this new school.
I also wanted to get a perspective from another school to see what the outsider opinion on LFHS is. I wanted to seek answers as to whether new students were able to easily find a friend group, if freshmen were welcomed into the school, and if they had any experience similar to feeling like an outcast. Gracie Allen, a junior at Woodlands, told me a little about her school and how it differs from LFHS. Gracie has many friends that have been new students, including one female that transferred from Rwanda this year.
“Woodlands is an all girls school that is much smaller than LFHS, so Woodlands is a pretty tightly-knit school,” Gracie added. I asked Gracie what she would do if she saw a student sitting alone at a lunch table. “Well, it is very uncommon to see anyone sitting alone at lunch, but if someone was then I would just go over and sit with them. People are very welcoming during lunch. If I don’t have friends during my lunch then a group of seniors lets me come and sit with them.” In theory, of course, this sounds perfect. Many Lake Forest High School students might share similar sentiments when prompted with the same question.
It’s not unheard of and certainly not new to hear that Lake Forest, at times, can tend to be quite “cliquey” and it’s even more widely known that high school, in general, has its cliques–that’s just the nature of the beast. One reason why Lake Forest, in particular, might have this mentality of staying in a group and not straying from what is already known could be because of all of the country clubs in our community. Onwentsia, Conway Farms, the Winter Club, the Lake Forest Club, Knollwood Country Club, Exmoor, etc. all have an air of exclusivity to them or a certain cachet. Many high schoolers in this town have been members of a social club since they were little. Their parents even perhaps met at the club and had their kids play together and that is how these deeply-rooted friendships have formed. My intent is not to reproach any or all of the country clubs in the community. They are great resources and incredible social opportunities for children, young adults, and adults alike. But, theoretically speaking, when a new kid comes to the club, are all the other kids already occupied with their friends? Is making the new kid feel welcome the standard, or is it the lesser known mindset? This is, believe it or not, how it can be in high school at times.
Now, it may sound like I am stereotyping and typecasting everybody with no official evidence that this problem is real. Some may be thinking, “well I don’t do that,” or “that is just how high school is,” and I understand the logic and rational thought in both of those arguments. For evidential purposes, I conducted a survey and asked students if they were likely, maybe, or not likely to walk up to someone sitting alone and begin talking to them. Out of 100 students, 37% said they were unlikely to talk to someone sitting alone, 55% said they might, and only 8% said they were likely to. Unfortunately, I think this speaks volumes of the “friendly environment” that can be addressed with the students in our school.
So, why do we act this way? What is the reason behind us not wanting to walk up to a person we don’t know and have a conversation with them? In my own opinion, I believe that high schoolers are generally–whether they want to admit it or not–a little judgmental when it comes to people who look different than themselves. It is their natural default setting to automatically shut them out. Not directly and explicitly from a lack of empathy, but rather because it is the easiest way for them to go about navigating a potentially “awkward” situation. The fact that Lake Forest has a stereotyped look can also make it easier for people to look, and more importantly feel, out of place. Additionally, we tend to find our group of friends and stick with it. We are satisfied with our friend groups, so we don’t try and go out of our comfort zone and go up to strangers and welcome them in an outgoing nature in to our conversations and social circles.
Our school does everything it can to be welcoming for young students. We have as many clubs extracurricular activities as any school, even those specifically influencing welcoming practices such as Link Crew and Student to Student. We also have myriad service opportunities that encourage us to go into other communities and experience life outside of what we our used to you. The onus is on us, the students, not the faculty or our parents or our community. This is our high school, one that we take pride in calling our own, so let’s take responsibility in making it one that is mature and welcoming to its newcomers.
So the next time you see someone sitting alone, ask them if they want to come sit at your table. It can’t hurt. If there is someone in one of your classes that you don’t know, start a conversation with them. You may end up to really enjoying talking to them,but you never know if you don’t try. High school can be busy, but sometimes it’s best to give yourself a reality check.