Mommy Vortex: Who Says You Can’t Go Back to High School?
About an hour before I was to attend my twenty-year high school reunion, I was suddenly overwhelmed by anxiety. What is it about high school that still produces feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, even twenty years later? Although I genuinely liked my classmates at my all-girl high school, I challenge any of us to find one teenage girl that wasn’t insecure at some point during high school. Despite my reservations, I wanted to see them. Pushing my anxiety aside, I headed out the door a bit wary, but fairly certain I was doing the right thing.
Attending that reunion was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself in a long while. Not only was I repeatedly amazed at what accomplished, generous, and genuinely nice women my classmates had become, but I realized something else: we, as young women in a turbulent world, were quite blessed and fortunate to have received such a terrific education in a safe environment. That education helped shaped each one of us into the women we are today. We needed to be grateful for that – and for each other.
Yes, our school was (and remains) the butt of jokes about uniforms, strict (bordering on unreasonable) rules, and an overwhelming workload. There were times many of us wished we were anywhere but there. But twenty years lends perspective. We had an arsenal of faculty, administrators, and parents that wanted to see the 100 plus of us educated in the best possible manner. And it made me realize that there are so many women, in our own country and around the world, that do not have that kind of educational opportunity. Despite all the minutia of everyday life crowding the experience of high school, we were privileged to simply be educated.
I remain particularly moved by the faculty who dedicated their life to educating young women. They saw potential in us; our gender was irrelevant to them. And the message we received from them was that gender didn’t matter. We were there to be educated as people, and each one of us was provided with the tools to – quite literally – be anything we wanted to be.
I don’t think that I appreciated that gift twenty years ago. And it makes me wonder whether today’s young women appreciate the opportunity of education that they are given. Between cell phones, sitting at the popular table, wearing the right clothes, and dealing with bullies, I just don’t know if current high school students – especially the girls – realize the gift many of them receive each day in the classroom.
More so, I wonder if these young women (and men) understand that their peers – the ones that they make fun of and/or secretly worship – will be their colleagues later in life. They may be their doctor, their child’s teacher, or their electrician. I realized at my reunion that simply having been exposed to other bright girls made me a better person, and gave me unlimited opportunities to expand my own knowledge and experiences. As I looked around the room, I was slowly overcome with an understanding and point of view that I didn’t have twenty years ago.
When it is my daughter’s turn to begin middle and high school, I am going to try and share some of that perspective with her. I think it will help (however marginally) to explain to her that her young peers, some of whom may even make her feel insecure about herself, could grow up to find a cure for cancer or be the admissions officer that accepts her child into college. It gives me hope to think that if every young girl going into high school could look around at her classmates and see their potential, that schools in general would be much kinder, supportive environments – and as a result, the students would be able to better appreciate the education they are quite fortunate to receive.
In retrospect, I think much of my anxiety about my reunion was a reflection of my own insecurities, which, admittedly, we all carry as women and mothers. High school is a tough time for most of us; so tough, in fact, that a torrent of those complex emotions came back to haunt me twenty years later. But time lends perspective, and my anxiety has turned to gratitude.
I am grateful for every one of those women I went to high school with – whether we were friends or barely spoke back then – because each one of them represents potential and possibilities for young girls everywhere . . . including my own daughter. And they reminded me that when we, as women, respect and become grateful for each other, we are a force to be reckoned with.
So, anxiety and insecurity be damned; twenty years later, I am content and happy to see these women with a common history and a unique future openly celebrate each other. It gives me hope.
Rosemarie Coppola-Baldwin is a practicing attorney and a dedicated mother of two children. A Georgetown University graduate, Rosemarie has practiced law at a major New York City law firm and for the City of New York. Rosemarie has been a guest lecturer on women’s civil rights and related legal issues at St. John’s University (New York), and offers pro bono legal services to a variety of entities.