Ex-Nerds Recall The Fates Of The Popular Kids They Went To School With
I come from a small town. The cool kids were the rich kids. Born with silver spoons in their mouths. One of the popular girls had driver's ed with me. The teacher fell all over himself to be nice to her. She drove first, the boys fought to open the door for her, the teacher gave her perfect scores.
Me not so much. A total nerd, shy, quiet, intelligent and straight A grades but too damaged to look at anyone popular, much less converse with them. That was high school.
Imagine my surprise when I decided to go to community college and saw Ms. Popular in my class. Seems she got pregnant senior year. Married the popular boy who also had rich parents. Had the kid and was in early childhood education classes with me.
Of course her mom was the teacher. She got all straight A grades on each assignment and so did I. One day, she was talking about poor single moms with disdain again, and I guess her mom just had enough.
After Ms. Popular went on a rant about how "People on food stamps should only be allowed to buy the necessities. Beans and rice should be the limit. They're poor and don't work for anything anyway."
"I've even seen people use food stamps to buy dog food," she continued. "Why would you have a dog if you're too poor to feed yourself? It should be illegal."
Her mom (the teacher) turned to me and said, "Do I have your permission to talk about your last paper and ask you some questions? It is worth extra credit if you say yes, and I promise not to say anything too revealing. We can stop at anytime." I said yes.
So the professor began telling the story I had written about.
"Last week the police chased a criminal through Nancy's neighborhood. About 2 am she was woken to a man rattling and banging on her door. Her German Shepard freaked out and when the dog began barking, the man moved on. He was shot in the steps of the apartment next door. The police told her if he had gotten in he would have held hostages so it was a very good thing her dog scared him and delayed his entry into an apartment. The dog probably saved her and her daughters' lives that night."
Then she turned to me: "Nancy, are you on food stamps?"
"Yes,"I said, somewhat embarrassed.
"Are you trying to fix your life, by going to college to get a good job and to set a good example for your children so you can provide for them without government assistance?"
"When was the last time you didn't have dinner so your children would?"
"Breakfast," I said.
Her mom (the teacher), turned to Ms. Popular.
"You have led a charmed life. I say write your greatest challenge and Nancy writes me the story you just heard. You write about eating rice and beans on every other Wednesday night to show your parents you can help them buy you your first house. I'm so glad you lived the life you did, but you should realize how lucky you are, and stop judging others who have it harder than you. You all want to be teachers? You'll need some compassion."
So that's what happens to pretty, rich, popular girls -- they grow up to be pretty, rich, popular adults, who judge without shame because they never had a truly hard day in their lives.
This is a true story. It happened 30 years ago. Ms. Popular and I are now friends.
#7 High School Again
I live in a community containing a lot of retired people. It's like high school all over again, only 60 years later. Everybody's here, the nerds, jocks, cool people, and the king and queen of the prom.
The king and queen are now fat and ugly, the cool people are wrinkled, and the jocks are having a hard time accepting that the game is over and the nerds have won.
Apparently the Cool Kids don't age well.
At my 35th high school reunion I was stunned to see how old most of the cool kids looked. Meanwhile, many of us nerds still looked probably at least 10 years younger.
My theory? Tanning! The cool kids probably spent a LOT more time in the sun than us nerds. And the effects accumulated over the years.
Other possible theories.... Smoking? Drugs? Alcohol? Or maybe just dumb (lack of) luck.
#5 Supposed To Go
One of them owns a theatre, several others are your typical successful family men with boats, swimming pools and summer vacations, a couple others are artists...
I mean... They never left our hometown and they're all fat drug addicts that live in trailers. That's how this is supposed to go, right?
#4 Cool Kid
My brother was a "cool kid" in high school.
A stylish, charismatic guy with many impressive skills; he was popular with the guys and girls alike.
He was a basketball player, he played the guitar and had a band for some of his time at school. He also liked to act in the annual school play. There wasn't a kid in my high school who didn't know his name.
He dated the "hot" girls and hung out with the other jocks. He bullied a few kids and even started a pretty nasty rumor about me one time. He was the king at school and there wasn't a day I didn't see it.
After school his life took some serious turns though.
He didn't put enough focus on his academic life and as a result didn't really prepare enough for college. He ended up going to community for a few semesters but ended up having some trouble keeping up.
Now, don't get me wrong. My brother is very smart and can learn or do anything he puts his mind to. He could easily have been a straight-A student. He just wasn't interested in it at all and as a result ended up dropping out within a few years.
His goals shifted, he made the sort of mistakes many of us do when we're young and he fell in and out of different crowds. He started working odd jobs in construction or painting. He still chased after the "popular" spoiled girls and only wanted to drive the coolest cars.
On paper, it really looked like my brother was screwing up his life. People made such nasty comments and almost took joy in watching the "cool kid" fail and fall on his face. But I've never thought that.
To me, when I saw my big brother, I saw someone who was really living his life. He had the guts to walk an unknown road, to try stupid things, fit in with different crowds and make those youthful mistakes. By 20, he'd lived a more interesting life than anyone I’d known.
Fast forward 12 years.
My brother is now a stable, secure man. Still has that great style, that charisma and wit. Only now, he manages a financial office and has just been offered a position that will put him on track to becoming the CFO of a well-respected company just after his 30th birthday.
So you see, it's not all black and white. This isn't some stupid movie where the "nerds" get the revenge and the jocks are all jerks that never mature.
For me, my brother has never been more cool.
#3 The Real Cool Kids
I attended high school in a blue-collar mill town in the US, with most of my classmates coming from lower middle-class families. Relatively few of them showed any interest in continuing on to college. But I was a doctor’s daughter, earned good grades, and was expected to go to university - which meant that I was a member of small, nerdy minority.
The athletic jocks and gorgeous cheerleaders were untouchably cool to my eyes.
I graduated from high school, attended university, and four years later, received my bachelor’s degree. Shortly after graduation, I managed to land a job as a research programmer. While my job was mentally stimulating and occasionally even fun, it didn't pay well.
Then came that rainy day when I decided to use the ladies' room at the university. Another woman was already in the room when I got there, a young mother with a fussy baby in a carrier and a very active toddler.
She was trying to maneuver the baby carrier into the small toilet stall while holding the toddler's hand, but wasn't succeeding. Exasperated, she looked towards me and we both realized that we knew each other. She had been a classmate of mine back in high school - The Queen of the Cool Kids.
"Oh my gosh, is that you, Stephany?"
"Yes. Are those your kids? They're beautiful!"
"Do you have a moment? Could you hold my baby? I need to pee so bad."
After we were done using the restroom, I asked her why she was at the university. She said that she'd been recently divorced, and she wanted to get educated for a good-paying job.
But those hopes were dashed when she realized that caring for two small children by herself while attending college would be extremely difficult.
I told her about the university's inexpensive child care cooperative, and encouraged her to talk to the financial aid office. Then we discussed the possibility of her waiting until her youngest was out of diapers before attending. (The web didn't exist yet, so online courses weren't an option.) None of her options looked very good.
Tears, tears, and more tears. Then the bombshell.
"I wish I were you, Stephany. I was so jealous of you and your friends. You were the cool kids, the ones that worked hard."
I was stunned. She'd been the golden girl that all the boys fought over. She had style, charm, athleticism, and beauty.
None of that mattered anymore. Now she was just another person, badly in need of a change. It really changed my perspective.
#2 Just Fine
I was friends with the most popular girl in school, actually. I helped her make her Homecoming Queen dress out of duct tape because her family was poor and couldn't buy her a dress.
She partied hard, but studied harder. She got a full scholarship to a state school and went on to get her Master's in Mathematics. Now she teaches at the local community college. She's had two kids so far, both boys, and is married to the manager of the local Walmart. She did just fine.
#1 Sad Way To Live
The irony about the popular kids at my rural high school is that most of the star players on the sports team were also in student government, involved in volunteer organizations, and had some of the highest GPAs in the school. I know one of them was even accepted into MIT, but turned it down to go somewhere else.
Now, you also had a handful of “cool kids” who sat around our tiny hometown and became 200 pounds overweight and didn’t seem to do much of anything interesting, but they were the exception.
Most of the "other" kids in high school (among whom were many of my friends) ended up doing really fascinating things and doing very well for themselves, but most of them were average, and some of them didn't quite make it to college for one reason or another.
As much as we as self-conscious Americans love the trope that the "cool" kids in high school will end up being bums the rest of their lives while the nerds triumph over all . . . that simply isn't generally the case.
Far more than popularity, other factors hint at future success—diligence in studying, the motivations behind our goals, our favorite things to do, and our abilities to creatively apply all resources at our disposal to accomplish our goals.
The best thing we can do is work toward our own goals without hoping to derive vindictive satisfaction from being "above" someone who used to consider themselves "above" you. That's just silly, and a very sad way to live.
-Mary-Celeste Lewis Ricks
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