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June 3, 2013

Lisa Madras: You’re weird? Join the club — that is, if they’ll have you

NEW CASTLE — What makes you weird?

For me, this is an easy one: pretty much everything. The great thing is that I don't consider "weird" a dirty word. The even better thing is that the people who love me, love me because of it, not in spite of it.

I had a sort of sad conversation with one of my son's friends the other day. At the impressionable and ever-so-fragile age of 13, he was lamenting the social dynamics of his high school. "If you're not one of the pretty girls or the jocks," he said, "you're nobody here."

I could tell from the hopeful look in his little eyes that he wanted me to disagree. But I couldn't.

"Listen, buddy," I told him. "It's like that at every high school in this country. And not only that, high school’s been like that forever, and it probably always will be. I was the nerdy, chubby outsider 25 years ago at my high school. But guess what? I'm still nerdy and chubby, but I'm definitely not an outsider."

I continued to tell him that, someday, when he goes off to college, he'll be appreciated for the things that make him different. I found that to be true in my case, and I believe with all of my heart that it will be true for him, and for my own children as well.

There's something very special about the culture of high school. It's a hard time for the majority of kids, which is strange, since you'd think there'd be strength in numbers. But the very differences that set the "outsiders" apart from the "insiders" also set them apart from each other.

And it hasn't gotten any easier in recent history, either. Bullying is more prevalent today than it ever was, and with the help of social media, the world outside of the school property lines has become an "online cafeteria."

I know that the last thing a teenager wants to believe is anything coming out of the mouth as someone as uncool as mom or dad. But with 20-odd years of hindsight, it's pretty easy to recognize that the entire culture of high school ends the moment the graduation caps are tossed into the air.

Guess what, kids, it's true. Nowhere else in life does the complex and unfair social hierarchy of the high school hallways exist. I'm not saying it's all rainbows and butterflies in the real world, but believe me when I say it's still significantly different.

In the real world, you will be celebrated for your differences.

Trust me, I'm as different as they come.

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