What is 16-year-old me thinking?
This is my high school ID from junior year, taken 20 years ago this month. I found it in a recent move among a box of stuff from high school, along with a progression of photos that showed my hair continue to grow and grow and grow from freshman to junior year.
This was the year that Bill Clinton was impeached. Google was founded. X-Files and ER were popular TV shows. A different era.
I never smiled in any of my pictures. I thought it made me look like a badass.
In actuality, I wasn’t your traditional definition of a badass. I was a straight-A student taking AP History and Honors Physics this year and was on my way to becoming a class valedictorian. I was a total hardcore nerd.
But I had a weird rebellious streak that resisted how others wanted to see me. I was inducted into National Honors Society, but refused to take part in its customs. During our official group photograph, I gave the photographer a fake name. (My go-to alias was “Gabe Jennings,” an elite runner who later became an Olympian.) I was later kicked out/quit because I didn’t want to attend the meetings.
My favorite shirt was a white t-shirt that I designed. The chest displayed the words “WALKING BILLBOARD” with the “no” sign over those words. It was inspired by the ubiquitous Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts of the time.
After I won some academic award, I got my picture in our small-town paper, standing next to my favorite teacher. I proudly wore the “NO WALKING BILLBOARD” shirt. My tiny act of visual rebellion caused a small stir in the community.
People made assumptions about me because of my long hair. I looked like a stoner or a dropout. I was once in the men’s locker room when a guy came in, saw my long curly hair, and said he thought he entered the wrong locker room.
I wasn’t a stoner. I didn’t even get drunk until the end of sophomore year in college. In high school, I brought my own lunch because I thought the cafeteria food was unhealthy. The only store-bought bread I’d eat had to be made by Natural Ovens. I made my own bagels and infused them with flaxseed and wheat germ.
In actuality, I was growing my hair long because I decided not to cut it until I met a certain goal time in track. Then I got injured it was taking me longer than I expected. So my hair kept growing.
After I finally reached my goal at the end of junior year, I shaved off all my hair. The track coach’s wife buzzed my head in a ceremony before practice one day. There’s even a VHS videotape of it somewhere in that high school box, which I could watch if I still had a tape player.
After my hair was buzzed, people saw me differently again. One English teacher literally stopped class when she noticed me sitting in the back and screamed, “YOU CUT YOUR HAIR!!” Then she calmly returned to her lecture.
But I was the same person, just presented differently to the world from one day to the next.
So what is 16-year-old me thinking?
I’m probably staring down the camera thinking, you see me, but you don’t really know me.