I can remember all the way back to when I was a young child in elementary. I didn’t think much about the kids around me or how they lived and I can honestly say that very few kids stick out from those years maybe because it seemed to me at the time that we were all pretty much the same except for our physical appearances. What I can remember about the kids in junior high school was the need to fit in and be liked at all costs. Making fashion statements were much more important than answering the question about the meaning of life. High school though became a stepping stone into the complex and dynamic reality of the world around me that I had never investigated nor even identified. Beginning with my freshman year I encountered many more students than I ever thought I would. I started to notice quite quickly that the school population was extremely diverse and segmented. Groups were everywhere; jocks, nerds, gothic kids, trouble makers, and of course the ever present popular kids. This was the first time I could see with my own eyes the fact that we were actually quite different from each other. Kids that I had befriended in junior high slowing began to change and pull away from me for reasons that were not understandable to me at the time. In actuality, not only were they going through changes but I was going through them as well. My taste in clothes, music, sports, and my views on certain topics began to expand and diversify. Yet I started to realize that in doing so meant leaving my old friends behind and meeting new ones. My family had always been a cornerstone in my life who established my belief system as far as religion and values and therefore the perspective on the young life I had led up until that point. That upbringing enabled me to be able to compare and contrast the beliefs and ideas of others with my own and so the journey into the world of high school led me to come face to face with that very opportunity. One example which stands out in my mind quite vividly was during my freshman year when I encountered a student in my history class who did not believe in a religion. He stated that he considered himself an atheist which I could never fathom up until that point. That was the first time I had even heard of that concept. My first reaction was being surprised because throughout most of my life I came across people who said that they believed in a God or at the very least followed a religion. Why he didn’t believe in God like I did was the question that instantly came to mind. Well, after many conversations with him he explained that he was not raised to believe in a religion or a God of any kind. Listening to him explain his reasoning was enlightening if not a bit perplexing and yet he and I have remained friends ever since. It would not be my last encounter with a student whose beliefs differed from mine. Entering my sophomore year I began to understand a little better how high school life operated and the kind of segmented system it had developed internally for the different groupings of kids at school. Needless to say religion was not the only area of differences I faced in high school. I also befriended many of the kids that considered themselves skaters and kids that primarily dressed in all black attire. They were often reckless and indifferent and had a laid back attitude towards most things in high school. These individuals were seen by the other students as rebels and troublemakers but because I came to know a few of them and their friends it turned out that most of them were quite intelligent but rather combative and defensive. Conversations with them ranged from politics to science surprisingly. Many of them had experienced the same difficulties in their lives, and much different upbringings than myself, that led to them becoming rebellious. The struggles they faced were disheartening and worrisome for their future because I could see that they relied too much on blaming others and not facing their own responsibilities to themselves and the world around them. I remember my dad explaining to me that not everyone had two parents available or even one that cared enough to talk to them so he asked me not to judge them unfairly. I had always enjoyed competition and wanted to expand on my friendships, so I joined football. Little did I know that even inside the football team concept was a hierarchy that sought to segment instead of unite but I went along with it for the sake of conformity. Again I began to see the lives that some of these kids led. The notion that popularity is sometimes formed through peer pressure couldn’t have been truer for the athletes on this team. I was invited to many parties where underage drinking and other questionable actions and transgressions occurred that greatly impacted what I believed about popularity in high school; that it was mostly based on the ideas of those few who held all the power and influence. I did not enjoy myself around those guys as much but I still managed to keep most of them as friends even though I routinely turned them down for their gatherings. In going from group to group across the years I started to establish myself independently of the barriers and parameters that were not only prohibitive but set up by others. I developed and connected with a small group of teammates within the football team and their friends because our similarities brought us closer. High school began to go by fast and the next thing I knew I was preparing for my junior year. During that year I came across a kid who joined the group and liked being the center of attention. He began to proclaim that he was tired of school and couldn’t wait to leave it to enter the workforce and enter what he termed the real world. I could not have felt more differently but apparently, and unfortunately for me, the rest of the group began to fall in line with his thinking and so I parted ways with them only because I felt it necessary to move forward with my desires and goals which included attending college. Talking with many of them I came to gather that their parents did not possess any kind of higher education and their families turned out to be very similar in the way they were formed and structured yet again different than mine. I didn’t see the kids as failures but rather as the norm around our high school where lacking aspirations might have come from a different belief system which enabled and in some ways encouraged them to think in that manner. At a very young age, my parents instilled principals and morals in me that have guided me throughout my life. These principals and morals have given me reason and strength to combat the temptations that high school has to offer. I came to wonder about how their family life and experiences led them to those viewpoints. As I look back now, I realized it wasn’t really those kid’s faults for having those types of perspectives on life after high school. After those encounters, I have never taken for granted the love, attention and the support that my family has always provided for me. Being raised by a father who attended Texas A&M University made me realize that higher education is a key to success. Because of this reason alone I have always put my best effort towards school and have tried to overcome the many challenges it has offered so far. As a senior now, I’m preparing to make a successful transition from high school to a four year university. Looking back now, I’ve come to understand one valuable lesson from high school: I will not always encounter individuals who share the exact same beliefs as I have but I will be ready with an open mind. This lesson has helped me realize that differences are normal and even healthy for all of us. We should be better prepared to communicate and understand one another and our differences to be able to enjoy our lives. I now understand that initial feelings are important but more important is the manner in which I allow for the differences of others to supplement my life’s experiences for the better. Has high school changed me? Of course it has, just like it has done to all those who have experienced it but it has also solidified the values and beliefs from my family that have made me into who I am today.