For those of you who know me well, you know that saying that my high school experience wasn’t that great would be a massive understatement. To be fair, my freshman year was actually pretty awesome, and my senior year was alright, but those two in-between years were complete and utter misery.
You see, I transferred from my local public high school to a private school in the city my sophomore year, and the transition wasn’t easy. I’ll admit that I was over-sensitive (what 15-year-old girl isn’t??), but most of my fellow classmates didn’t exactly give me a warm welcome. I introduced myself at 3 different lunch tables that first day before anyone actually allowed me to sit, and that experience by itself was so traumatizing I ended up spending most of that first year eating lunch in a bathroom stall by myself. I could go on and on telling stories from those years that still make my stomach turn, but that’s not what I want this post to be about. So here’s what you need to know to understand the story I’m about to tell: for me, high school sucked.
To this day high school-aged kids are the only group who really intimidate me. Give me a group of archeologists (including the fella who LITERALLY wrote the book on Mesa Verde – yes, that actually happened) on one of my tours over a group of teenagers any day. You see, no matter who they are or where life has taken them, most adults have learned two very important things: respect and sympathy. Teenagers are mean. They’re in this weird in-between place in their lives where they are so unsure of who they are that the only way they know to find confidence is to make grand gestures for attention and put others down. Okay, so I may be generalizing here, but my high school experience was that bad. Put me in proximity to a group of teenagers and I instantly revert to my sad, terrified, beat-down 15-year-old self.
So knowing all of this, you can imagine that I was horrified to find out a group of 25 high schoolers would be coming on my 2 o’clock Cliff Palace tour this afternoon.
And not just any high schoolers – the reason I was given the heads up on this group is that they had already gotten in trouble for making quite a ruckus at Spruce Tree House earlier that day. I was listening to the radio traffic and shaking my head when I was informed that they would be with me.
I’ll admit, my initial reaction was in no way valiant. I begged several co-workers to switch schedules with me – but it turns out I’m not the only ranger who dreads high school students. I even got on my hands and knees and pleaded with my supervisor to come up with a situation where I would not be at the head of this tour. My cries didn’t go totally unheeded – she granted me a tail ranger, an ally in my fight against the hormonal rage headed my way – but patted me on the shoulder as she advised me to stand my ground. Law Enforcement had been informed of their misbehaviors, and as my tail ranger and I got into our vehicle I overheard the report that they were also en route to talk to these hooligans. I tried to comfort myself in the knowledge that I would not be alone.
As I made my way down to the overlook an LE ranger met me. He told me he had been very firm in his warnings and that I shouldn’t expect any additional troubles. I wasn’t soothed.
My heart was racing as I started my safety talk, as we made our way down the historic stone steps, as we climbed the first ladder, and as I began to explain the site in front of us. But as I settled into my talk I realized that every eye was on me, every voice muted. I realized that I had the control.
And guess what? It turns out high school kids are pretty easy to control. Our Law Enforcement ranger had done the heavy lifting – he had scared the living bajeezus out of them. No one in that group said a single word until we neared the end of the tour. By that point I had relaxed significantly, allowed myself to smile, had even cracked a few jokes. And guess what!? By the end, they were laughing! High schoolers! Laughing! At MY jokes! It seemed like no one had ever laughed at my jokes when I was in high school. The 15-year-old in me wanted to squeal with joy. But I kept it together. I couldn’t let these guys on to me and my total lack of actual teenage coolness.
At the end of the tour several of the students crowded around me with additional questions. The boys in the group even approached me for a picture. Do you see this 15-year-old Mariana??? I was thinking to myself. Boys! And cute ones! IN LINE TO TAKE A PICTURE WITH ME!!! I AM SO AWESOME!!!!
I didn’t need this experience today to know that I have come a long way since high school. But I’d be lying if a part of me didn’t feel hugely vindicated. It was just another victory on this road of life and growth. But man was it a victory, and even if it’s six years late, I will take it.