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Out of Our Minds
Friday, August 20, 2004 9:55 PM
Is High School Destiny?
Anita Sharpe on Culture

At a recent dinner party, we were trying to guess what everyone around the table was like in high school. It was pretty easy picking out the former jocks, cheerleaders, class presidents. And then we came around to a gorgeous, confident, successful woman. Homecoming queen, I ventured.

'Are you kidding? I was ugly as sin -- I wore braces until I was 19 and I think it was that year I had my first date.'

It started me thinking of people who revolutionized our culture who were not cool in high school: Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg. . .

Did their lack of popularity spur them on to their later greatness, or did the individual vision that made them great preclude any possibility of conforming to high school coolness?


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I thought of a similar question about our early beginnings this summer, when big news stories included Bill Clinton's autobiography, and the eulogies for Ronald Reagan and Marlon Brando, who also helped define their times. One immediately obvious connection among them was that each grew up in presumably limiting environments -- at or near poverty, and unfortunately with at least one abusive (or just plain absent) parent. While popular, Clinton frequently recalled the 'uncool' jeans he wore during high school over 40 years ago, and with some detail.

So perhaps being a revolutionary 'change agent' requires (or at least benefits from) having a bit of an outcast's perspective of the world, a notion that changing the formula a little bit can be for the better. This sends a mixed but perhaps inspiring message to parents -- not to suggest that neglect is good, but the idea that not every moment of your kids' upbringing needs to be perfectly and orderly managed, in order for them to do great things later in life.


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