Introduction to high school – now and then

My daughter Anna started high school this week. That’s Grade 9 here in Abbotsford. When I was her age, high school began in Grade 8.

My daughter Anna started high school this week. That’s Grade 9 here in Abbotsford.

When I was her age, high school began in Grade 8.

It was a different time of transition.

Nowawdays, there are introductory visits, information mailouts, spirit events, and orientation days featuring legions of “leadership” students ushering the newbies around, helping them find their lockers and classrooms and bathrooms, all the while extolling the wonderful virtues of their new home-away-from-home for the next four years.

The whole thing is run like a pro marketing campaign, designed to introduce the nervous new arrivals with the least amount of angst.

Wow… Back in my day, there was nothing like that.

You left Grade 7 with an empty, gnawing sensation in your stomach. This was it – the end of the familiar little school where you knew everyone, and you could count the number of classrooms on one hand.

In the fall, it would be the uncharted wilderness of a high school that sprawled over several acres, and held the population of a small town.

The introductory tour consisted of a bicycle drive-by during the summer. Yessir, there it was. Huge and imposing. Locked and solemn. You just knew, dark forces lurked in those hallways, waiting to consume the new young interlopers.

My daughter is extremely excited about her new school year.

In contrast, my anticipation for Grade 8 was along the lines of a visit to a dentist – a big, hairy one, wearing an eyepatch, and holding rusty pliers.

And then it was Day One. Standing out on the country road, waiting for the school bus.

A journey into the unknown, followed by an unceremonious offloading in the parking lot, with hundreds of others. Thousands. Maybe tens of thousands.

How could there be that many strangers in the entire province, let alone Abbotsford?

The welcoming committee was a platoon of Grade 10s on the front steps. Smug, confident expressions, haughtily looking down at the little geek with the briefcase.

Yeah, I admit it. I carried a briefcase.

I think my mother thought it was the thing to do.

I was an instant target for ridicule.

“Watcha got in the briefcase, goof? Your pyjamas?”

Another kid might have ditched the thing the same day. For me, it became a symbol of resistance. I kept that leather case right through Grade 8.

Some of my tormentors felt its wrath, too. Passing quickly in a crowded hall, held at a strategic elevation and angle, that briefcase could deliver a satisfying blow into the nether regions of the thugs. And then Ninja Nerd would melt away into the crowd … off on a frantic hunt for the physics lab.

We didn’t have friendly, older student guides to help us negotiate the labyrinth of halls and breezeways and multiple levels of classrooms, and interrogation rooms, and torture chambers.

Well, I never did personally see the latter, but the Grade 10s insisted they existed in the basement.

For the first week or two, it was navigation by panic, heightened by stubborn locker locks that would have confounded Houdini.

Rotate the combination dial to the first number, reverse two turns, now to the next number, the bell has just rung, don’t pass the last number, stand on one foot, and do the hokey-pokey … you have two seconds until your next class … abandon the mission to get the textbooks out of the locker, and just run to find the classroom now?

Or just run home? It was tempting…

I tell my daughter those were character-building days.