I went to a private high school. A private, single-sex high school in the miraculously beautiful enclave of Farmington, CT. Miss Porter’s School has since been rebranded as simply “Porter’s” on all of its merchandise – similarly to how the University of Connecticut is now UConn – but to those of us who knew it back in the burgeoning years of the Aughts, it was MPS.
Let’s be honest – my school has gotten a lot of shit in the past few years for being, apparently, a den of cultish witches who breed pearl-clutching cheaters or haze-happy harpies who dress all in black and cultivate fantasies of the Russian secret police. I’m not even going to get into that stuff, because it was never what I experienced at Miss Porter’s.
I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for this era of my adolescence, mostly because I have my 10 year high school reunion this weekend and I’m due to see a lot of my old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen since the 5 year reunion. A lot of them are married, or are on their way to the altar. Some of them have one, even two babies. They are all successful, smart, and pretty interesting people.
The four years I spent at MPS changed my entire life.
I entered my New Girl year (every single Porter’s Girl in her first year of study, no matter what year, is referred to as a New Girl) in the fall of 1999 with butterfly clips piled high on top of my head, a brain full of NSYNC and Britney Spears, and L.E.I. jeans that flared out from the knee. I had a severe learning disability – ADD is a clinically diagnosable LD, it’s not just something people say to get longer exam time – and was heartbroken at the fact that my best friends were attending the public high school back in my hometown without me. I was also slightly perturbed at the fact that I would be attending a single-sex school; I had just realized that boys were, you know, a thing, and I was pissed I would be kept away from them. This anger/fear was not unfounded…the first weekend I was able to go to the mall in my hometown, I nearly had whiplash from snapping my head around to look at all the boys. It was like Homer in a doughnut factory.
I was also thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly unprepared for the workload. I can attribute this to my learning disability all I want, but the truth of the matter is I was a lazy-ass student who just wanted to eat Ben and Jerry’s all day and watch Singled Out on our dorm’s TV. For a little while it was almost a point of pride of how close I got to failing out of Porter’s but I managed to get my shit together and have a pretty great GPA senior year. It helped I was taking pretty much all English and Art History courses.
Also – let’s face the bald facts, shall we? – I was a fucking weird child. I thought musicals were realistic portrayals of life. I was extremely loud. I was so untrusting of everybody and so unwilling to look people in the eye that when I talked to people I was unsure of, I would stare out of the corners of my eyes and avoid their eye contact.
Let’s just say that freshman year wasn’t exactly the cat’s pajamas.
I did get a freshman year superlative in the school’s yearbook. Class Slacker. That was a fun conversation with my parents! I managed to work my way up; by senior year, I was voted “Future Celebrity”, which I still think is both fascinating and hilarious.
But really, this post isn’t about school; the actual sitting in class, the taking of notes, the memorizing of biology keynotes. This is about all of the things we did in high school that are antithetical to learning and entirely aligned with living.
I remember meeting a lot of my friends on that first day. A few of them didn’t make it through freshman year, but the ones that did I remained close with.
I remember the Day Student Room. I was a commuter, so the school provided us with big rooms on campus that we could decorate and make our own. I remember sleeping there a few times when senior year hit and things got really intense with schoolwork. I also remember freshman year’s room in New Place and the enormous dodgeball fight we had with an orange. I’m positive they’re still scrubbing rind out of the walls.
I remember playing on our junior varsity basketball team freshman year and being told my sophomore year that I could either do the winter musical or play sports. I chose the musical.
I remember our first ‘German’, a prank the upperclassmen play on the freshmen that involves making the newbies freak out about having to learn several German phrases, then all of us gathering in the school’s auditorium to watch a skit put on by the seniors making fun of all the teachers at school. It was only after this play was over that the freshman learn the entire German portion of the evening is a huge joke (which made me scream with happiness, because dude, German is hard.). My senior year, I helped produce the production and had a part in it.
I remember watching several of my classmates stand up on National Coming Out Day and declare their homosexuality – or their alliance with LGBTs – and realizing that my little bubble of heteronormativity had just been popped.
I remember the school dances with the all boys schools that were bused in, and having a legit heart attack when I walked into the Noni and saw all of the testosterone bobbing their heads to “Pretty Fly For A White Guy.”
I remember getting chosen for the seniors-only a cappella group at a special dinner, and going around the whole campus singing.
I remember being heartbroken when my friends transferred, or took a year off to go abroad.
I remember the giant scavenger hunt thrown by the junior class in which the freshmen had to run around the entire campus dressed in crazy mismatched motley – or, “K-Tell” – and collect various items while the juniors, dressed in black, cheered us on.
I remember long, throaty, loud walks to Naples Pizza and Starbucks, and even louder, Moulin Rouge – soaked walks back.
I remember conversations and Chinese food until 3AM. Sometimes longer.
I remember mix CDs: Indigo Girls, S.O.A.P., 2Gether, the Broadway soundtrack of Rent, “Teenage Dirtbag”, Weezer.
I remember funny lists on the daystud room whiteboard, such as “What Character From South Park Are You?” (Butters. Always Butters.)
I remember watching Trainspotting in the Wean and being simultaneously excited and freaked the hell out by it.
I remember prom and feeling like an obese Audrey Hepburn in my black cocktail dress and black gloves.
I remember the graduation party, and falling asleep under the stars on top of a tarp and being woken up at 6 am by a bagel shoved in my face.
I remember sitting in the Barbara Hacker Theatre on September 11, 2001, and feeling like the entire world was crashing like Towers, and feeling the community embrace all of us like a fierce hug.
I remember the hard, the scary, the beautiful, the wonderful. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are some memories that are just for me.
In the summer of 2007, a tremendous tragedy happened to the Porter’s community. I didn’t know Hayley Petit, nor her family, but she was a Porter’s girl, and therefore it felt like we all lost someone incredibly important and full of potential. We all mourned her, and we all remember her and her sister and mother.
Because more than anything else, despite the things that I could say about my high school experience that weren’t so pleasant…Farmington became my home. Those girls became my family. They will always have a giant chunk of this heart.
This weekend, I will walk onto the campus of my high school. I will hug my friends and try to reconcile with those I’ve lost touch with. I’ll sit and reminisce and recall a time in my life when the world was still a big question mark. And I’ll pay tribute to the school that taught me how to shape it.
I’m coming for you, girls. Wear your grey and yellow and get those garden songbooks ready.
Puellae venerunt. Abíerunt mulieres.