What I learned from being the ‘new girl’ in high school

When I was 15, my parents announced, during dinner one night, that we were moving from Oklahoma to Ohio. Having moved from New York to Oklahoma when I was four, I wasn’t new to the whole uprooting thing, though it had been 10 years. I loved my house and I had good friends. But, strangely, it never felt like where I was supposed to be. So I was mostly excited.

Within the span of just a few months, the house was sold, our stuff was packed, and I was standing in the living room, perplexed as to how life as I knew it could be sealed into cardboard boxes and stacked in a room. We’d been talking about the move for months, but now that the day had finally come, it was surreal.

I climbed into the van and mentally prepared myself for a one-way road trip. The initial frisson of the day began to fade after about six hours, and with seven more to go, it was replaced by an overwhelming uncertainty. My bravery faltered as I sat in my new room, which had brown trim instead of white and felt very alien. Everything had arrived, but all of my clothes smelled of cardboard. Later, I would realize that I left something behind.

I wondered if my new high school experience would be like Cady Heron’s. I hoped not — I did not own enough pink. I was rocking glasses and braces at the time, so I felt like I was the epitome of teenage awkwardness. Yet I wanted my sophomore year to be different. I wanted to feel like Mia at the end of The Princess Diaries.

Time flew by at warp speed, and before I knew it, I was standing in the middle of a crowded hallway, desperately cross-referencing my class schedule and a map of the school. I reminded myself that it was a two-story building and this was high school, not The Maze Runner. A student mentor had walked me through my schedule the day before, and at the time I felt confident that I knew where I was going. Apparently not. I was late to my math class, which earned me a particularly snarky remark from my teacher, who implied that I shouldn’t have come at all since I had already missed the first 15 minutes. I ate lunch alone, which is just as awkward and horrible as the movies make it out to be. I took the bus home that afternoon and contemplated selling all of my belongings and living a life of solitude in a rugged mountain range. But if I’m being honest with myself, I’m really not that outdoorsy.

The first-day jitters were gone by the following morning and my classmates began introducing themselves. I felt like I was the latest iPhone: Everybody wanted to know my specs — where I came from, why I left, what I liked to do, if I had a boyfriend. They were friendly enough, but I just felt like everyone wanted to see how I fit into their fragile ecosystem.

Whether or not this was true, it was hard for me to make close friends. Thus I was reluctant to become involved in school activities. Each day seemed to blur into the next: get up, get ready, go to school, endure classes, return home, complete homework, eat dinner, watch TV, sleep. One evening I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, neglecting my homework and feeling absolutely no desire to do anything. I realized I dreaded school. I hadn’t joined any clubs, which left me with a lot of time to think, and I finally remembered what I had left behind: my sense of purpose. My drive. I knew then that if I didn’t try, if I didn’t make more of an effort to fit in, I would spend the next three years of my life feeling utterly miserable.

I’ve always been passionate about theater. I was heavily involved in the drama department at my previous school. I had been attending summer drama camps since I was eight, I took voice lessons, I participated in school plays and community musicals. It was something I loved, and something I was good at. So I decided to audition for the upcoming play. By now, it was the beginning of October. The show was Leading Ladies, by Ken Ludwig (which is hilarious and if you haven’t already seen it, do so at your next opportunity). This particular production had a cast of eight, so I was terrified. When you have more than 30 aspiring thespians, eight is a pretty scant and intimidating number. On top of that, I was a new student. As Effie Trinket would say, the odds were most definitely not in my favor.

The day of the audition, my anxiety was through the roof. I was desperately trying to remain calm while my stomach was training to be an Olympic gymnast. Finally my name was called and I walked onstage. I took a deep breath and recited Meg’s lines, just as I had practiced the night before. As I descended the stage, I said to myself, like a phlegmatic old producer, “You know, kid, you’re not half bad.”

What happened next was straight-up ridiculous, plucked out of a teen comedy: My foot caught on a platform, I tripped, and there was an audible gasp from the audience as I hit the ground. My body wasn’t injured; the same could not be said for my dignity. My face burned red with embarrassment as the auditions continued. “At least you were memorable,” I consoled myself.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw my name on the callback list. I was 100% convinced that my faceplant had blown my chances. I managed to keep my clumsiness in check during the next two rounds of callbacks. When the final cast list was posted, I started reading from the bottom up. No, no, nope. Guess I didn’t get that one. . .Wait. What? WHAT?!? My name was at the top of the list. I had gotten the lead. Me. The new girl. The girl who literally fell flat on her face in the middle of her audition. In a way, the fall broke my funk.

I had heard the expression “everything happens for a reason” countless times, and to be perfectly honest, I always thought that it was what people told themselves when they failed or things didn’t work out as they had planned. It was a coping mechanism. But if I hadn’t moved exactly when I did, things might have been very different. Over the next three years, I was accepted into two a capella groups and a choir. I even became a choir officer. Ever since I emerged from that initial blue period, I was inspired to really put myself out there and become super involved. It felt necessary, even. I eventually warmed to my classmates and made some good friends. And if I hadn’t moved to Ohio, I wouldn’t have even thought to apply to the university that I currently attend, because I wasn’t familiar with any of the schools in the state.

Moving in the middle of high school is HARD. I didn’t realize it that night at dinner, but as exciting as starting over is, it’s not exactly as simple as it sounds. But I’m so happy that this was my experience, because it was good practice for adapting to change, which has made other big life changes — namely, going to college — so much less stressful. For a lot of people, college is the first time they leave home and begin a new chapter in their life, but I already knew what that felt like. I learned how to look for the things that made me happy, and to never stop looking until I found them. Life is full of changes, and I’m not saying I’ll never fall down again. But I have the confidence to believe I’ll survive, and even succeed. Sometimes getting through one hard times makes the next one a little more manageable.

[Image via here]