Out of the Ordinary: How to Survive the American Education System

Advice for weirdos, geniuses, and everyone else who falls through the cracks.

I’ve talked a little about my terrible high school experience. I was never as virtuous, smart, or well intentioned as Texas teen Ahmed Mohamed who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, but I still felt mistreated at the hands of an uncaring system.

Freshman year was hard on me. New town, new school. Nobody knew me, or my motivations however ambivalent they were. Racism was a very real thing on our campus. It was hard to find a place for myself so far outside my comfort zone, but I eventually did. By the time I was a senior, I went from having no friends at all to school being a real sanctuary for me, and it only took four years of trial and error.

So, for incoming freaks of all stripes, here is my patented guide for how to survive and thrive in the soul-crushing shit-hole that is your public high school:

  • Don’t act tough. That’s only going to convince people they should treat you tough.
  • Conversely, don’t bitch out. People are going to try and test your boundaries. Students and teachers alike. Don’t let anybody compromise your integrity.
  • Find something you like and make it just challenging enough to keep it interesting. That might mean anything from AP Calculus to Varsity Field Hockey.
  • Don’t let your interest become your personality.
  • There is nothing more important than being yourself.
  • Especially not shitty friends who would turn on you for expressing who you are. The world is full of these kinds of soul eaters. Dump them early and often.
  • Quit things you hate. Start new things in their place.
  • The college you go to is not important.
  • Really, it’s not important.
  • What is important are the relationships you build there.
  • Just like the ones you’re building in Chess Club. Or the Debate Team. Or the Gay Straight Alliance. Or Whatever
  • Find your people.
  • I’m not talking about jocks or nerds, or even girls who wear purple.
  • I’m talking about the people who make you laugh, who are easy to talk to.
  • Find those people and be with them, because that’s the key.
  • Don’t get caught up in petty drama, and don’t let it distract you from your goals.
  • Speaking of goals, what other people think of them is irrelevant.
  • This includes your parents.
  • If all else fails, keep your head down, serve your time and get the fuck out of there. You can do something for four years that you couldn’t do for a lifetime.

Now that I think about it, these rules could apply to anybody who’s trying to start something. Except maybe the last one. Or maybe especially the last one.