Confessions from the Junior Hill


Sophia Kriegel, Editorials Editor

I guess I’ve always been a part of the group — the one that stands on top of this small hill just to make themselves feel a little better, a little bigger than the rest of them. We did it around the sophomore circle, found our territory, marked it forbidden to those who didn’t fit in, and set up some sort of cruel campsite.
Freshman year, we were still figuring things out. We were all awkward then so it was harder to distinguish who they deemed worthy. Middle school was the same with its awkward hugs and smiles brimming with braces. No matter what grade it was, the goal was always to be a part of the popular group. Everyone wanted to stand on the eighth-grade side in middle school, sit at the “cool” table during freshman year, loiter around the sophomore circle during tenth grade, and now, during eleventh grade, everyone wanted to stand atop the esteemed junior hill with all its height and holiness.
But this kind of division begins long before high school. I see it in my eight-year-old brother. I watched him and his friends learn the term “popular” and brand every athletic boy who wears Elite socks and chases the girls around the playground with it. The second-grade classroom becomes a training ground for cliques and outcasts. This is not new information. This is a learned idea, and whether it be from their sisters or brothers, from movies or social media, it all starts somewhere.
I’ll admit, at the beginning, I was more than happy to be there. I had been an awkward underclassman and, although my friends were very cool, I never was. Standing on this hill made me feel worth something.
This was the first sign of danger.
It is a toxic thing to derive your worth from those around you. It is even more toxic to define your worthlessness from what those around you whisper. For the first time in my high school career, I felt like I belonged. Not because anybody made me feel particularly welcome, but because I was here, on the junior hill, and people knew my name.
The magic of this hill and these people is enchanting. Everyone gets lunch together and laughs at things that aren’t that funny. The boys rough house and the girls sit and watch, going down the line to claim which one they chose for the day.
But beneath all the pretty and pink that is the popular crowd, there is a dark shadow that each person seems to wear on their shoulder. It is the way you hug someone goodbye, making them feel so loved, only to let them go and curse their name. It is the term “frenemy” and its cruel identity crisis. It is a culture of cold shoulders and harsh words, masked by fake smiles and sweet perfume.
We have learned to admire this false sense of niceness and strive for it in our own friendships. Passersby marveled at all the pretty people and how nice they were, how funny they were, how perfect they were, neatly placed on their pedestal.
I am not proud to say that even I, as conscious as I was of how harmful this hill could be, found my place and assumed the attitude needed to survive there. But the cruelest part is that it sticks with you. Even as I have ventured into new friendships and new territories, I still can hear the whispers from people who still claim to be my friends.
I do not blame these children. I blame everyone and everything that taught them that this was okay. We have grown up in a generation that fosters cruelty and brushes aside its consequences. We are so entrapped in toxic mindsets and monotonous bullying assemblies about how to be a bystander that we forget we are all bullies. Each and every one of us subconsciously judges each other and make assumptions based on mere visuals. This is the kind of attitude that perpetuates harsh words and mental abuse.
There is nothing wrong with having a hill to hangout on. It does provide some great sunshine for tanning as the summer approaches, and it is a decent proximity to most classes. It is toxic, however, to shroud this area in a clear fog of exclusion.
Even if it is not said out loud, there is an obvious divide between people. The hill provides the perfect venue to foster this division.
I know it naive to believe that we can all join together in friendship and sing pop songs excitedly like the characters of “High School Musical,” but I’d like to think that we can start getting to know people before we judge them.
As junior year comes to a long awaited close and senior year quickly approaches, it’s important that we try our best to crush these useless divides that have loomed heavy on our social lives for too long. We as a class and as a generation need to be better. The division that has separated us since elementary school is one that has allowed us to judge each other throughout our entire academic careers.
The junior hill is just a hill. The danger of it comes from people claiming it as their own and excluded others from standing on their stomping ground.
Although the enchanting legend of the senior hill will draw many of us to its peak, it is important to be conscious of what that means. Do not stand on the hill to be higher than others. Do no stand on the hill to assert dominance or exclude others. The class of 2019 should be a welcoming group of people that encourages inclusion and does not let mere territories prevent people from learning about each other.