Opinion | How my Coming-of-Age high school story compares to the movies

Aaliya Weheliye, Photo Editor

Before we knew about Common App, and what a good weighted GPA was, before college was the end goal and main focus driving us to the finish line, there was high school to romanticize. Throughout middle school, I couldn’t wait for my life to begin once I stepped foot into the gothic arches of Evanston Township High School. Hank Green didn’t write life-changing, soul-altering novels about middle school dances in the upstairs gym. All the books and shows I consumed had one thing in common—they started and ended in high school. It’s funny how high school and middle school really didn’t have much to set them apart. Sure the passing periods were a shorter and I never got lost in the Nichols hallways. But really high school was a symbol for the most exciting, romantic and wild moments of my youth to be lived. While I am unsure if my idea of high school lived up to the standard Gossip Girl set for me, I can’t imagine changing more in four years. Even when the whole world stood completely still and my world was confined to Zoom calls and masked walks, I blossomed into the person I am today. I want to look at my four years here through the lens of the media that shaped my idea of what the high school experience was long before I lived through it myself. Coming of Age movies. In my attempt to get inside the most brilliant mind of our generation—Greta Gerwig—I did what an good investigative journalist would do: I opened Google. I was supplied with a step-by-step formula for creating the perfect coming-of-age movie. So let’s see how high school actually compares to a Coming of Age Movie. 

The first part of a good coming of age movie is past vs. present theme. We have to look back on the beginning of our journey—whatever that may be—to see how far we have come. Looking back on freshman year can cause a mixture of emotions. Nostalgia, not only because we were younger but also because we hadn’t lived through a global pandemic. Embarrassment, whether it was posting yourself doing the renegade on TikTok, or a questionable romance, freshman year was marked by trying new things, and many just to learn it most definitely wasn’t for you. Joy, looking back on how far you have come and how far you will go in another four years. Coming of age movies often have flashbacks to show us how much a couple years can change a person entirely. Often, they have a melancholy tone, we bathe in the nostalgia of what once was. Being older and wiser often feels harder, and we miss a time when we were marked with naivety. While this feeling of nostalgia is hard to deal with, it’s easy to confuse it with desire. So for the flashback of my coming of age movie, I am choosing to appreciate 14-year-old me, without dismissing how she would have admired 18-year-old me. 

The next important part of a coming of age movie is creating a time capsule. We want our coming of age movie to be a sign of the times. So naturally, mine would have to include key moments of my high school career. The opening credits would have to be Tongue Tied by Grouplove, and most of my sophomore year would be marked by That 70s Show and too much avocado toast. Some trends are so fleeting we forget about them till we stumble across a two-year Snapchat flashback that brings it all back. A good coming of age movie has that quality. It isn’t timeless; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. My movie would have cramming for AP tests and waiting for the last minute to turn in essays that count for 30 percent of my semester grade. It would also have the first real warm day in May, when school is ending, and you are so eager for summer you can almost taste the hot dogs from Mustards and hear your bike pedals turning you to the beach. When you can’t image going back to high school for another year of waking up at 7 a.m., and hours of homework every night. That’s the beauty of high school though, the one really timeless thing about it: it kinda sucks. 

The last step to making a good coming of age movie is a good protagonist. I’m not quite sure if taking half a semester of video 1 makes me qualified to assess my protagonist capabilities, but let’s look into it. Something I have noticed when watching coming of age movies is that the best protagonists are pretty obnoxious. But that is what makes someone relatable. In Lady Bird, the main character messes up so many times you wonder if you can even root for her anymore. A coming of age movie, much like high school, is a reel of all your mistakes. It’s hard to look back on our not-so-proud moments with anything but disdain. A really good protagonists accepts their mistakes. Lots of times we hear it’s okay to make mistakes if we learn from them. But this process isn’t always that simple. Sometimes, it takes making the same mistake 50 times to really understand why it’s wrong. A good protagonist can laugh at all the embarrassing moments and learn to love how those moments have shaped them.  

All in all, high school is a less glamorous than Ferris Bueller’s Day off, and a lot less romantic than 10 Things I Hate About You. But I can say that all the embarrassing moments, late homework assignments and tears have led me to be the protagonist I am today. I can’t wait to see what the sequel will look like.