High school was a strange period. You have this diverse group of 1000 girls, all so different in all manner of ways, and somehow you still succeed in creating and maintaining an annoying sameness. Looking back now, I find it remarkable how unremarkable we all were. There were few people who had a significant something that set them apart, made them truly special. For the rest of us, it was that uniqueness that can only be justified by small things: quirks, idiosyncrasies, oddities. Uniqueness that turns out to be of the same variety as every other uniqueness, and therefore becomes generic. The things that made us ‘stand out’, the things distinguished us from each other were all characteristics that, in the long run, turned out to mean nothing: This girl sleeps while standing during assembly on cold Monday mornings; that girl has an alarming number of alleged boyfriends; that girl is simply too bright and should just be kicked out of school for it because she makes the rest of us look like we came to school because we like to hang out here (Yes, Wangare. We will never forget). They were fun and some of them were hilarious. I had a classmate whose very essence was made of ‘udaku’, so much so that she learned how to read lips so that she would know what people were talking about even if they were talking in hushed tones while standing five metres away from her. These things made the four years bearable, even enjoyable sometimes, and helped take our minds off how desperate we all were to leave.
But they were small things, not special; everybody had hers and in this way, these things kept us uniform. Of course there are the people who achieved such a high level of excellence in being unremarkable that they lacked even these quirks, and we left high school without even knowing their names, despite the fact that we spent years in the same limited spaces. But those ones we can talk about another day.
Now, after high school, the changes are spectacular. People blossom. Their uniqueness–true uniqueness–begins to show. They become special. They come into their own. Their difference begins to mean something. They are no longer small things. It’s like for four years someone had a foot on their necks but now they can finally breathe. For one thing, you realize that those grey skirts and maroon sweaters were doing absolutely nothing for some people. Barely a year after we had all gone our separate ways people were out here looking like they were modelling for Vogue. Thank God for social media. It reminds us that change is constant and that when a girl finds the right shade of lipstick you can’t tell her shit. I look through some of my former classmates’ profiles on Instagram or Facebook because I have no shame in my stalking, and honestly, it’s incredible. Like, how did I not notice over four years how beautiful these girls were? And you feel a sort of pride, even though you weren’t actually friends then, because when they look good, you are able to claim them as ‘my people’. Which is more than I can say for the ones who refuse to embrace YouTube and draw on their eyebrows like they are going to war. Seriously guys, if you choose to put make up on, the internet is there for you. You have absolutely no excuse to be looking like you filled in your eyebrows using a permanent marker. And with such unnaturally sharp lines. Why?
Anyway, it’s not just that people suddenly become hot after high school. It’s the growth that you can see happening, too. It’s inspiring. People are now out here prospering and doing so unexpectedly well that you can’t help taking pride in the fact that you went to school together. Fighting for clean environments, for gender equality, for integrity in politics, for reproductive and sexual health. They are building businesses, winning scholarships, engaging in meaningful work, grabbing opportunities, writing well thought-out and insightful posts on social justice, calling out people on bullshit, driving change in their communities, and generally becoming what I imagine our teachers hoped we would become, no matter how bleak the situation seemed when we were in school. Honestly, these are people who used to fight and insult each other in class over whether the windows should remain open or closed during night prep. These are people who the one time we had chicken for supper, carried the bones with them to class and sucked on them throughout prep. These are people who once told a teacher, when he entered and asked whether it was time for Physics, that no, it was time for woodwork. We did not have woodwork as a subject, they just thought the teacher was asking them a dumb question— did he not have a timetable? They have grown. My people have grown. It’s beautiful to watch.
The struggles are far from over. I recognize that we have just begun. Our dreams are just starting to take off. People are working hard. They spend a good deal of time on memes and selfies, but they are working hard. None of us knows where we will end up, but my God I look forward to a time when I will be seeing these girls in positions where they can influence change because I believe in them. I believe that we did take away a few things from high school. We may not have learnt how to calculate molarity of a solution or how to obey when we were instructed not to bask at the front of the school, but we did learn some things. We learnt that sometimes you have to break the rules. We learnt to stand up for ourselves even when authority bears down on us. We learnt to laugh. We learnt to look out for our sisters. We learnt that the system may be built to work against us but that change is possible. We learnt that some things matter and some things don’t. We learnt that no matter how much you try, there are just some people you cannot like, and some people who cannot like you. We learnt that you have to work hard for the things you want. We learnt that apparently, the education system thinks it is important for us to know how to write a fax even though most of us have never even seen one and nobody uses those anymore. We also learnt that a large number of teachers genuinely believe that students break rules because they are engaging in devil worship, where devil worship generally means anything that they cannot understand. Perhaps the greatest thing we learnt was that there are problems in how things work in this country, how things work in our schools, how things work in our communities, and that we can fix those problems.
Our school motto was Honour, Courage, Industry. Despite all the shade we threw at the institution, I think most of us were proud of that motto. It was different. It meant something. And I think no matter how many issues we had with our school, we took that motto with us. To date there are things we do and say, ways in which we behave, that are distinctly from that period of our lives, and that I suspect may never fade. I pray it never does.
Having said that, I don’t know that there is any amount of money that could convince me to go back to high school. Some battles are to be fought only once in your life.