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Jeff Ward Article

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

May 23, 1999
Section: LIFE
Edition: FINAL AM
Page: 1

Type caste

Does your high school clique def define you for life?
Jessie Milligan
Star-Telegram Writer

All of high school is a stage, a place where character is developed and image is everything.

 

The opinion of the crowd matters mightily. We cringe when they throw tomatoes, become ecstatic in their applause. We assume roles, identifying with one group or another; the brains, the nerds, the jocks, the freaks. When 12 students and a teacher were killed in an explosion of violence at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., recently, we were reminded how important image can be to teen-agers. "In high school, we define ourselves through our perception of what others think of us," said James Hall, a psychologist with the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. "It's as if we are on stage and everyone is watching." Sometimes, if we are cast out from the crowd, we join other outcasts. Feeling superior, we decide the "in" crowd is the enemy. "That happens everywhere, not just at Columbine High," Hall said. So what happens when the curtain comes down on high school? Do we maintain the image we developed in school? Can we recover? Maybe.

It's easy to shed the high school image if we go on to later successes, Hall said. But for some, the wounds are deep. Outcasts can become stuck in an emotional adolescence. So how do we rebound? Here, from the neighborhoods of Tarrant County, are a few stories of high school experiences; some miserable, some idyllic. All these folks, in spite of the role they played in school, say they turned out OK. Here's how they did it:

Gleniece Robinson Foley High School, Foley, Ala., Class of 1969 In high school: A groundbreaker In adult life: Director of the Fort Worth Public Library Gleniece Robinson, a self-described "bold, brassy and mischievous" girl, was an academic achiever at an all-black school in the Deep South. So it was not surprising that she was among the first to volunteer when the all-white Foley High School, southeast of Mobile, Ala., was forced to desegregate. Automatically, she became an outcast at age 16. Instantly, an unpopular girl. Robinson says she walked the two miles to school every day rather than take the bus, where white students wouldn't let her sit down. Her high-school experience taught her to cope with difficult people, and ultimately, to become a better and stronger person, she says. Robinson is the newly hired director of the Fort Worth Public Library, and an example of how to turn the horrors of high school into adult success. "I learned determination. I learned I could not allow other people to turn me into a mean and hateful person," says Robinson, who believes her high school years provided the drive to pursue a college education and a career.

Dave Wilk Tulsa Memorial High School, Tulsa, Okla., Class of 1985 In high school: Class clown In adult life: Professional comic "Are you going to be the class clown forever? " a teacher at Tulsa Memorial High School once asked Dave Wilk. Probably so. Wilk says his high school image still follows him around. And is he ever glad about that. Short, skinny and funny, Wilk chose to trade on the "funny" part early on, and it's paying off. Wilk was a high-school underachiever, intentionally so. "I played tennis, but I tried to stay ranked in the No. 7 position because the top six had to be on the team and compete," Wilk says. He didn't want to compete. He wanted to go bowling. Or cruising. Wilk is a comic with Four-Day Weekend, an improvisational comedy troupe that performs regularly at the Caravan of Dreams in Fort Worth. In April, he returned to Tulsa Memorial High School to do a seminar on improv comedy. "Now I can say that I am going to be a clown, I'm going to be a good clown, and you guys are gonna pay for my services," Wilk says. "I turned out OK because I followed my bliss."

Michael Murry Tonganoxie High School, Tonganoxie, Kan., Class of 1968 In high school: Valedictorian, student council president In adult life: Psychologist Michael Murry is the self-described overachiever. He was in high school. He is now. He set high goals and made sure he met them. Murry specializes in the psychological evaluations of juvenile sex offenders and of parents accused of abuse and neglect, among the most challenging branches of his field. "Adult identity doesn't suddenly start forming at age 18," Murry says. Who we will be when we grow up is something that gradually takes shape over many years, including the high school years, he says.The high school years are crucial, so crucial that Murry rarely agrees when parents tell him their teens are overly concerned with status symbols. Murry says the right clothes and the hottest stuff help teens establish their spot in the social pecking order, and there they may stay, if for no other reason than self-fulfilling prophecy.

Kenneth Barr Polytechnic High School, Fort Worth, Class of 1960 In high school: Could have been Ozzie and Harriet's third son In adult life: Mayor of Fort Worth The lesson from Mayor Kenneth Barr is this, although he didn't exactly word it this way: More important than the creeps at school are the people who are waiting at home. Family support helps set values during our volatile teen-age years. "I was a good student, but not an academic superstar," says Barr, who launched his political career with a successful bid for the high school student council. "There was a group of friends I ran around with all the time. We weren't always out to do good, but we knew our limits." "I had a family that had a commitment to putting me and my two brothers on the right road. Too many kids today don't have adults committed to them in that fashion."

Jeff Ward Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, Class of 1969 In high school: An "elite geek" In adult life: Owner of Eagle Audio recording studio From Jeff Ward, we can learn that there really are perks to being a geek. Ward went to school in a coat and tie, even in the late 1960s when everyone else was wearing bell-bottom jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. Life in a private school uniform automatically made one an "elite geek," Ward says.

That wasn't all bad. "There wasn't much peer pressure, mostly because there were few peers," Ward said. He was in a graduating class of only eight students. "There were so few of us. We didn't worry too much about image. We didn't need to worry about standing out from the crowd," Ward said. Ward went on to work in radio news, then computer programming, and now owns a recording studio.

Ric Nesbit Highland Park High School, Dallas, Class of 1963 In high school: The all-American jock In adult life: Student counselor, Arlington Heights High School Did life turn out perfect for this superstar athlete who went through college on a swimming scholarship? No: Life seldom does. In 1995, Ric Nesbit's 16-year-old daughter, Katy, and her classmate, Michael McEachern, 17, were shot to death in Fort Worth by a juvenile male who stole McEachern's Ford Bronco and car stereo. Nesbit went on to become the co-founder of the North Texas Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. Even before his daughter's murder, Nesbit's life was devoted to teens and their struggle with identity. He started his career as a swimming coach, then switched to counseling when he saw that as a more direct way to help kids. Nesbit tells his students that high school images don't have to stick. The image adopted in high school is merely a protective mechanism, he says. It helps adolescents feel the safety of numbers. Nesbit believes it's part of growing up to eventually abandon those images, develop an individual personality, and be willing to change. Extracurricular reading: In case you've forgotten what high school life was like, try reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (Pocket Books, 1999). You may have seen Wallflower pitched on MTV. It's a novel from the perspective of a teen-age boy, and it's akin to peeking into your little brother's journal wherein you'll find fresh insight into the angst and joys of being a freshman in high school.

Jessie Milligan, (817) 390-7738 jlmilligan@star-telegram.com

 

 


Copyright 1999 Star-Telegram, Inc.

 

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