High School Sucked: on the perils of rose-tinted glasses, and learning to love the way you live.

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Some days, I think uni isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The visions I had when I was submitting UCAS forms of echoing, beautifully dusty libraries, constant new journeys of self-discovery and romantic dates in cosy coffee shops don’t exactly feel like they’ve come to pass when I’m on level 11 rushing to finish an assignment before the library closes, pretending to have done the reading for the second week in a row, or trying to forget a disappointing winch the morning after a night in Hive. Sometimes, in the blind panic of impending deadlines, it can be easy to long for a time before all this pressure, before the intrusion of thoughts of post-uni career prospects into daily life.

In my almost infinite capacity for wasting time, I have found a new love for American high school comedies, particularly Freaks and Geeks, which has only continued to feed into my longing for the simpler times of sixth-form, before constant deadlines, when discovering a new band was the most exciting thing to ever happen to you, drinking came with the cheap teenage thrill of illegality, and you only had to read two books per term for English Lit. The on-screen depictions of high school can make me long for my rather grubbier teenage self, all bright orange hair, ripped tights and artfully-scuffed Doc Martens.


Dazed and Confused or Ferris Beuller’s Day Off give me a stylishly retro, technicolour vision of high school that makes me long for those younger, freer days. There’s only one problem; I never lived in these fictions, and for me at least, high-school sucked.

I was a relatively weird, relatively shy kid growing up in rural Northern England. My class-mates didn’t respond kindly when, at the height of my David Bowie phase, I tried to cut my hair like Ziggy Stardust, nor to my decision to cake on heaps of bright blue eyeshadow every day, very much against my mum’s wishes. I spent sixth months skipping PE to hide in the art room. I was trapped in my small town, bored out of my mind, and longing, constantly, for any form of escape. Taking my A-Levels was actually far more stressful than university has ever been, particularly as I developed glandular fever halfway through, which nearly caused me a mental breakdown. At the time, I hated high school. So why on earth do I miss it?

In short, I don’t; not my real high-school, anyway. What I remember when I’m missing it is a collage of my best days; my friends, my favourite teachers, school plays and parties, combined with my favourite bits from various novels, movies and TV shows. Something between a rose-tinted vision and an outright fiction.

This was also, I realised, how I thought of uni before I got here; through books and films and all manner of fiction; some heady mix of Brideshead Revisited, Pitch Perfect and Starter for Ten that, again, existed only in my head. The version of University that I had in my mind then did not involve staying up til 4am to write essays, or paying extortionate amounts for tiny, dingy flats, or lectures dull enough to fall asleep in, for the simple reason that it wasn’t real. Nobody fantasises about the mundane aspects of their imagined life; they have enough of that to be getting on with in their day-to-day. You can look back at your memories with the rose-tinted glow of nostalgia, but it can obscure your view looking forward too.

One thing I am certain about is that truthfully, even with all its stresses and setbacks, university is much better than high school ever was. I may not have found that ideal romance, but I’ve made some incredible friends who appreciate both my love of 70s popstars and my eclectic taste in makeup. My reading lists may be shockingly long, but I am learning an incredible amount at a speed I never thought possible, and discovering new perspectives, as well as new favourite novels that I will treasure for the rest of my life. I understand that high school was a fantastic time for some people, that it may have been a whirlwind of self-discovery and non-stop parties. But that wasn’t the case for me, even though I sometimes imagine it that way. Uni has caused me stress like nothing else, but on a good day, on a cold, bright October day when the sun is shining through the bright orange autumn canopies of Kelvingrove Park, as I hurry with I giant cup of coffee to a lecture on a novel that I loved, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

Article: Clare Patterson

Illustration: Lara Delmage


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[…] This article first appeared in Glasgow University Magazine in 2016. […]