Opinion: Good experiences aren’t always what you expect

Andrea Hefferan | Managing Editor

When I started high school, what excited me most were the round tables. I kid you not; it wasn’t the classes I’d be taking or friends I’d be making, no. It was the fact that I’d be rid of those boring, rectangular lunch tables. Middle school lunch would consist of my friends and I complaining about those awful tables (if we could hear each other). 

I yearned for high school and the round tables. It meant I was growing up. It would be perfect, the pinnacle of the lunch-eating experience. I would be as glorious as King Arthur, my knighted friends each my equal at the table. In my head, there was no doubt about it. I’d be dining sumptuously at a round table for the next four years. 

It’s kind of funny, looking back, that this is what made me look forward to high school. But in my defense, I was the oldest sibling of a family that went to high school in Mexico, so I had no idea what Mason High School would be like. I didn’t know about the Black Hole, Spirit Week, Prom or Homecoming. The hassle of college applications seemed eons away. If I could simply sit at a table and not have to yell three seats down to talk to my friends, then I’d consider “the best four years of my life” complete.

If I had spent all of high school using that as a measure of happiness, though, I would have been miserable. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve sat at a round table. Since the first day, my new friends chose to sit in the small commons because it was quieter. From sophomore year on, I ate lunch at my own desk in the Chronicle room. And now, wouldn’t you know it, but I’m at home, eating my meals at yet another table that is not round. 

Does this mean my high school experience was awful? Well, if my eighth grade self heard I hadn’t reached the one expectation I’d had of high school, she might have thought it was. But the truth is, I gave up round tables for far more important things.

First, friends. My freshman year, I met nine other girls, and we’ve stuck together ever since. Before high school, I cared more for a book than a conversation. Yet my friends made me see the value of human connection. For the first time, I was able to have people I could open up to, people I could trust. It may have meant eating at a rectangular table, but these girls were worth that and much more.

Second, the Chronicle. To outsiders, it’s a class, or a club, or “just a school newspaper”, but to me, it became a family. Coming in as a sophomore, I was surrounded by upperclassmen. I’ll admit, they intimidated me at first, but soon enough I realized that the moment I stepped into that classroom, seniority was irrelevant. We’d all eat lunch together, no matter what grade we were in. Sometimes I’d eat at my desk, chatting with my classmates. Other days I’d sit in the back room with a few others, make myself coffee, put on music, and get some work done (at least, try to). Or more recently, I’d just sit on the couch and take in the buzz around me, just absorbing the atmosphere. By my senior year, I would be in the Chronicle room for almost 3 hours on some days, but when the bell rang it always felt too short. 

Third, my health. When I was in fourth grade, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. For those who don’t know, it’s inflammation in my stomach, manifesting itself in many unpleasant physical symptoms. Still, not many people had known about my Crohn’s, as I’d been relatively asymptomatic for years. However, once high school started, it started getting progressively worse. The inflammation got so bad, that a few days after my 16th birthday, I had to get surgery. For a week, I was in the hospital, being fed through an IV. Though that was undoubtedly the worst week of my life, all the people in my life, especially my close friends and the Chronicle staff, came together to make it easier for me. With their support, I made it through. After the surgery, I felt so much better physically than I had in years, and along with that, I knew I had people I could count on. At first I had been afraid of judgement, or being labeled the “sick girl”, but none of that ever happened. And though I missed a lot of school (and of course, the infamous round tables), it helped me so much in the end.

Lastly, my family. I can’t talk about my high school experience without at least mentioning the coronavirus. Not even my house has a round table–our dining table is teardrop-shaped. But before corona, it would barely be used. We were all so incredibly busy that at least one seat would always be empty. “Family meal” was not in our vocabulary. Yet as my senior year came to a close along with our schools, the dust settling on the table was wiped away. I was able to finish out my high school year by reconnecting with my family, who I’m going to leave in a few months for college. That just makes the moments spent around the teardrop table even more special — a memorable, if unexpected, end to my high school journey.

After four years of high school, I can say one thing for certain: I’m glad I didn’t eat at the round tables.

ahefferan.chronicle@gmail.com