Back To Junior High

Kids are funny things.  Sometimes they’re annoying little bastards, but mostly they’re just endearingly comical.  I suspect that’s why people decide to have kids – the high entertainment value.
I volunteered at the Williamson County Schools Career Fair yesterday. 
Imagine a ginormous arena full of rambunctious 8th graders who are ecstatic to be out of class and not terribly interested in their future careers.  And really, who can blame them?  At 14 I was concerned with far more immediate things.  Like whether it was cool or not to wear socks, or which couple had just starting “going” together, or who made editor of the school newspaper (yeah, I was a dork even back then).
Sitting behind my booth, it was amusing to both observe and interact with these not-quite-kid, not-quite-adult creatures full of timid self-doubt, energetic bravado, and raging hormones.  If I remember correctly, this is the age when kids start to identify themselves and coalesce into various groups. And that phenomenon was so painfully apparent while watching the kids float around the career fair. Some pretended to be diligently pursuing the gathering of future career information.  Bless their little hearts.  They were the ones wearing starched jeans and button-down shirts or knee-length skirts and black pumps.  They were the ones with the neatly parted hair and the bright shiny faces, and carried clipboards and ball point pens.
Then there were the kids self-consciously trying to model themselves after media-inspired images of high schoolers.  You know, the Laguna Beach/Dawson’s Creek look.  Look-at-me casual, but please don’t think I actually care about how I look.  I did NOT spend hours applying barely-there make-up or getting my hair to look sufficiently beach-blown.  They wear the suede Birk clogs with low-waisted scruffy-looking jeans accented with an appropriately wide belt.  They coolly meandered around the arena in small groups pretending not to notice anyone besides themselves except when they ran into another small group of their kind at which point they would hug (females) or engage is some form of handshake (males).
And then there were the jock groups.  At one point the entire wrestling team crowded around my booth.  They were, of course, all wearing identical wrestling team jackets and maneuvered through the arena en masse like a heard of water buffalo.
There were the “alternativey” kids wearing the punk, cigarette jeans with laceless Vans.  They’re the ones with the chunks of color in their spiky hair.  They’re the ones who will get piercings and tattoos as soon as they are able.  These kids try their hardest to be different, but end up looking and acting exactly like each other just like every other Junior High clique. They were also the ones who demonstrated genuine interest in some of the careers and open disdain at others.
There were haphazard groups of the smart-ass juvenile delinquent kids who showed no interest in any careers but visited every booth to see what freebies were being given out and then loaded up with as many as they could manage.

It was like a freakin' flashback to Junior High. I desperately wanted to impart some wisdom, not about architecture, but about being yourself. I wanted to tell them not to pigeonhole themselves into cliques. I wanted to tell them that the labels they attach to themselves and each other won't matter in 10 years. I wanted to tell them not to worry so much about looking and acting like everyone else. I wanted to tell them that the interesting people in life are the ones who don't follow the crowd like lemmings.

But then I remembered what it was like to be 14 and I could empathize with their need to blend. The need to "fit in" to some kind of group. The need to feel like you belong and have something to contribute. The need to feel like you are surrounded by people who "get" you...cuz lord knows your parents don't "get" you at that age.

So, I smiled and didn't talk down to them. I treated them with respect and friendliness. I answered their questions and joked around with them. I took my own advice and refrained from broadly categorizing...and had fun at the Williamson County Schools 8th Grade Career Fair.

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