About a month ago, I was scrolling through my university’s Facebook confessions page when I came across a post raving and ranting about how “pathetic” people who remain close with their high school friends are. While the post garnered several hundred likes, there was a hot debate going on in the comment sections about whether or not people agreed with the author’s thoughts. Half seemed to think it was a ridiculous statement while the other half argued that if you could call your high school friends close friends still, you were doing college wrong. This post didn’t make me angry just because I am someone who has managed to maintain many of my close friendships from high school, but because I do not understand the need to pass judgment on people who may be living their life a bit differently than yours. The stigma that appears to be in place when it comes to high school friendships is ridiculous, and as someone who still calls her high friends close friends, I’m calling its bluff.
Prior to entering college, I remember getting a lot of advice about what I should and shouldn’t do. “Don’t go to a school too close to home.” “Live at school.” “Don’t live with someone you already know.” “Live in a freshman dorm.” “Don’t come home on the weekends.” “Quit your job at home.” The list of suggestions was endless and a bit overwhelming. Some I agreed with, but others just didn’t feel right to me. What was made clear to me was that high school was a time in my life I needed to be permanently closing, and that idea made me terribly sad. I wasn’t alone in this situation. Most, if not all, kids preparing to enter college become familiar with the phrase “a time to reinvent yourself.” Your teachers throw it at you, as do your parents, guidance counselors, campus tour guides and everyone in between. And it is. College is a whole new chapter of your life that you can write however you want. It’s a time to explore and grow, to meet new people and to take advantage of opportunities you didn’t even realize were out there prior to stepping foot on campus, but you shouldn’t have to completely write off your past in order to do any of these things.
With the future containing both so many bright possibilities and inevitable changes, the summer before we all left for school was a strange and confusing time for my tight-knit group of friends. We were all ready for something new, but at the same time, preparing for what could very well be the end of the period of life in which we were closest. A few of us were going to the same school (I did disregard the advice of my teachers and live with one of my best friends from high school — no regrets), others were heading off to various schools in New England, with one headed down to North Carolina and another to Philadelphia. Each goodbye was a bit tougher, because we didn’t know what was in store for us.
Well, thanks to Facebook, Skype and technology in general, we managed to remain important parts in each other’s lives over the next four years. Breaks were a happy time to fall right back into the rhythm we had known before we went to college. New Years and birthdays were celebrated together, we still reached out to each other when we had important news to share, and despite being as spread out as we were, not a whole lot changed. As time passed, naturally a few faces disappeared from group photos, but for the most part, we had managed to survive the separation that so many promised college would (and should) bring.
Yet as the author of the Facebook post would try to point out, this wasn’t something we should feel happy about. It was a mark of something gone wrong in our college experience — maybe we were too stuck in our past, too shy to branch out, not open to new people. All false. We weren’t reliving our “glory days,” we were simply managing to move forward together. Some could argue that paying careful attention to friendships established in high school leaves less time for the new friendships you develop in college, but I have to disagree. There seems to be a wonderful balance that can be struck between the two. My friends and I had pretty wonderful college experiences. We grew as individuals separate from the group and all formed a series of new relationships that existed outside of our high school bubble. Better yet, we didn’t shy away from mixing our worlds and introducing one another to our college friends, further extending our web of connections. We had a hybrid experience in that we created new relationships and formed new close friendships, but didn’t forego the important ones that already existed.
As a college grad, I am feel extremely fortunate to be able to say my close high school friendships have grown into strong and wonderful adult friendships, because without them, graduating last spring would have been all the more difficult. Knowing we were all going to be back in the same area (because like many other graduates, we ended up moving home) and seeing each other on a regular basis gave me something truly exciting to which I could look forward. I made amazing friends in college. The people I got to know through my freshman dorm, general education courses, major and study abroad group are a cherished group of individuals, and I consider myself lucky to have gotten so close with all of them during my time at the university. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is I don’t get to see them even a quarter of the amount I’d like. Many have moved back home, gone soul searching, or found jobs that put thousands of miles between us. I miss them like crazy. That’s the funny thing. You spend all this time immersing yourself in college life and it’s over so fast. Would the same people saying to leave high school behind say the same about college? Drop the friendships you established there in order to make room for the colleagues you’ll now be encountering? Shouldn’t we instead be encouraging people to continue to nurture any friendships that have mattered to them over the years?
There’s a difference between friendships formed out of convenience and those that are of a genuine and real nature. If you were lucky enough to find the latter when you were in high school, you should never let the judgment of others who might not have been as fortunate make you question if you’ve made a mistake. Considering I’ve known most of my remaining close high school friends for over a decade, it’s safe to say we’ve been with each other through a substantial amount of growth and a series of life’s ups and downs.
We watch shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother and hope to have a group like that someday. Well, I’ve got mine. And honestly, knowing we’ll all be navigating the next chapter of life together is more than reassuring. You don’t discard good friends like they’re old, threadbare jeans. You appreciate them for what they are. There’s nothing wrong with forging an entirely new path once you go off to college, it’s a great thing. But there’s also nothing wrong with remaining close with the people who were with you every step of the way leading there while you do it. If I’m 80 years old and still laughing with the same people I laughed with during lunch in my high school’s cafeteria, I won’t consider that a failure. It’ll be a rare and lovely success.