Alumni Feature: “A Size That Doesn’t Fit”


Will Ryan

This story was originally published in the 2014 compilation, “Shadows Off the Lake” written by Mr. Scott’s senior Contemporary Chicago Writers Class. 

Growing up in Lake Forest, one of the more affluent suburbs of Chicago, is nothing less than a blessing. If you are lucky enough to be able to venture outside of the town—informally dubbed as a “bubble”—it is pretty easy to see why people view those who hail from Lake Forest as “preppy, stuck up, rich white kids.”

As for me, I have ventured far outside of the bubble, but in thinking about it, all of us have at some point or another. Traveling as far north as the Arctic Circle, spending time in the towns and villages of the Canadian first nation’s people, witnessing first-hand the effects of poverty and crime in a place far different from the borders of the shore of Lake Michigan that stretches west to Waukegan Rd. Places where it almost seems impossible for people to live–dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, and hunger.

Although if you leave the confines of Lake Forest’s pristinely built fences, and talk to someone who, for example, goes to a high school in the same conference as Lake Forest, such as Libertyville, Stevenson, or Warren Township, they usually all have the same sort of connotation for the kids who populate the halls of LFHS.

Upon working at the high-end, posh country club aptly titled, The Lake Forest Club  (need it be named anything else) for the first time, I met a co-worker who attended the nearby Warren Township High School in Gurnee, a blue-collar, more diverse suburb just north of Lake Forest. Instantly, I could tell that she categorized me as a stereotypical “Lake Forest kid.” The blonde hair, the Patagonia, the seersucker suits, the trust fund, the sense of elitist entitlement. The whole bit.  It was almost as if she couldn’t trust me, as if she had already known exactly who I was without even sharing more than a few words. This blessing of living in Lake Forest is also where the curse of growing up here is exemplified. Just like stereotypes of the inverse, we feel the need to break down preconceptions at every turn; every journey north across Rte. 176 into Libertyville or west of Rte. 60 into Mundelein.

The idea that when you come from Lake Forest, you have something to prove to the many people you meet, is emblematic of this curse. You have to break down and slowly unwind the many stereotypes that burden the amazing young men and women that hail from this privileged community. You have to break the curse, so to speak, one person at a time.

After working with this same co-worker for numerous months, we had grown to know each other on a personal level. We decided to look past our differences and preconceived notions for one another and were able to open up by sharing stories of our family lives, social scenes, and high school experiences. Through this process she and I both learned that—although we had come from different backgrounds, and had experienced lifestyles that would be put on opposite sides of the spectrum—we could relate on a lot of things: struggles, triumphs, fears, and excitements.

Something I’ve noticed throughout my life in Lake Forest is that people seem to think that we all live these lavish lives with big houses, fast cars, and fancy clothes. They seem to expect that we are these people who haven’t experienced hardships, who live carefree lives within the sheltered borders of the bubble.

This couldn’t be more wrong. Every young person living in Lake Forest has experienced hardships. These unintended struggles range from being left alone in the world after a close friend takes their own life, having to raise yourself into adulthood after a childhood divorce, or having to make your way through your schooling career with parents seemingly oblivious to your successes and frustrations. Each of these hardships are simply unknown to the people not from this community once they hear a few futile words.

“Yeah, I’m from Lake Forest.”

Although after a while, I could tell that my coworker had begun to understand that although I had grown up in Lake Forest, I wasn’t another elitist trust fund baby who thought the world revolved around him. Instead, she grew to know deep to her core that I, and all Lake Forest students, for that matter, were just teenagers struggling to understand why it is that we are here on this earth, nervous to enter the next chapter of our lives. And most of all, a willingness to show that all Lake Forest kids aren’t fashioned in the same way.