This blog is dedicated to every high school senior who cannot wait to spread their little wings and fly, fly, fly away from the dirty, dank hallways of their high school.
Let me preface this blog by saying that I’m thankful for my education. I realize that so many students aren’t afforded the same educational opportunities that I have been, and while I have earned where I am today, many things were also given to me. Some of this is a product of geographical luck, since I was zoned into a good school, and found people who encouraged me and pushed me to where I am today.
Despite the fact that I grew up 30 minutes north of Baltimore, I come from a small town. It’s kind of confusing; you drive directly up the highway, then BAM—you’re in hillbilly territory. My high school has an agricultural magnet program, a reminder of the town’s farming roots. I took mandatory agriculture classes (fun fact: I can grow hydroponic lettuce) and my high school has an active FFA club. The campus is dotted with barns and slaughterhouses from the school’s earlier days when taking a little baby animal to kill out back was a regular part of the curriculum. A popular club fundraiser is Kiss A Pig, where you pay money to vote for a teacher to kiss a pig on the morning announcements.
Do you get the picture?
Throughout high school, I always felt like I was so above it. I knew that there were bigger and better things out there, and I spent my extra time in the city trying to soak up some urban sophistication. My eyeballs craved a break from the camouflage (I don’t mean this figuratively; many wore camo.) I was, like so many of my peers, determined to get out of Hereford. I knew that I didn’t belong in this little farming town. I shunned my peers and their steel-toed boots and worked and studied so hard so that I would never have to see a single one of my classmates ever again.
And I did get out of Hereford. Oh, Hallelujah, thank the heavens, I did. When college acceptances began to roll in, I imagined worlds where people didn’t drive jacked-up pickup trucks with Confederate flags billowing from the antennae. I imagined worlds where I could walk to class without a bloody, dead deer peering at me from someone’s trunk. I imagined worlds where I could reach into a desk without pulling out a water bottle full of inky, syrupy dip spit.
I vowed never to look back. I promised myself that I would reinvent myself in college, as all typical adolescents swear to do. College seemed like a world of optimism and change from the startlingly archaic world of my high school.
But as college progressed, I realized, Hereford is sewn into me. Try as I may to enunciate, someone will catch my slight twang. Try as I may to introduce myself as being from Baltimore, it is soon revealed that I’m from the county. In the early days of college where every introduction relies on hometown, Hereford became my crutch. When people asked where I was from, I imagined the baby goats on my school’s back property and the big sky sunsets over the cornfields. I was straddling this line between being desperate to exaggerate my Baltimore citizenship and being unwilling to let go of Hereford.
Hereford is part of my identity. As much as I trash it, as much as I condemn it, as much as I attempt to separate myself from it, it is an important part of my life. I was part of Hereford. And by telling my Hopkins friends about the craziness that ensued in my high school, I am part of Hereford.
For every time I rolled my eyes at a “THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN!” chant through the halls, I look back at it as a hilarious, unreal memory. For every time someone curiously asks what small, agrarian towns are like, I’m able to pipe in with my first-hand experience.
My school was a caricature, and it’s allowed me to laugh at my past. Instead of being embarrassed that I didn’t go to an elite boarding school, I tell hilarious Degrassi-esque stories from my school to garner approval. Hereford taught me to earn respect.
I’ve matured a lot in the way I view Hereford. I used to be disgusted by it, ashamed that I came from a town that is arguably a living stereotype. I wanted to distance myself from it, prove that I wasn’t part of it. But I am. And that’s okay. It’s shaped who I am and I learned so much from having such a high school experience.
I’m convinced that high school isn’t there to teach you anything academic; it’s there as an almost-social experiment, for you to learn how to navigate complicated, crazy social dynamics. I’m glad that my friends from prestigious high schools had such great educations, but they will never know how to handle someone beating the snot out of someone else in front of their locker at 7:30 am.
So, fellow friends from tiny, conservative, hick towns: embrace it. Live it. Soak up the hilarity. Every time you want to scoff at something, laugh at it. Humor is the only way to survive the Herefords of the world. Your college friends from towns with five Vanderbilt children will not have the same stories that you will. You will have the awesome, hilarious, unbelievable stories. Tell them.
I used to introduce myself as being “from Baltimore”—no questions asked. Now I say “I’m from Baltimore, well, 30 minutes north of it, from this ridiculous podunk hillbilly town.” And I say it with a smile. And I don’t even try to suppress my little twang.