Breaking Out: Step outside comfort zone

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— When I think of high school, teachers, assignments and required credits aren't the first things to come to mind.

Rather, the social aspect of the experience is the first thing I think of - hot guys, friends I'm hanging out with this weekend, and whether or not the kids in my classes will accept me. The truth is, high school is less about education and more about social standing. There are many different cliques at any high school; however, (at least at SSHS) there isn't one particular group of people everyone wants to be a part of. As much truth as there is to the movie Mean Girls, not all of us want to be blonde, bratty and perfect.

Instead, many people are just looking for a group that will accept them. I won't go into the cliques at SSHS, because I don't want to stereotype anybody. But each clique has certain criteria you need to meet in order to be accepted. Maybe you play the same sports, like the same music, wear the same clothes, or are the same age or grade level. And if you don't meet this criteria : you're out.

Why do we set this standard for people we spend our time with? I think it has a lot to do with our comfort levels; I mean, by default I'm more comfortable around strangers who I have something in common with. I think that's totally natural and a generally good thing; I love getting to meet new people who share my interests. But if we never step outside our comfort zone and get to know people we normally wouldn't, we miss out on a lot.

There are plenty of kids I passed judgment on early in the school year. I thought so-and-so was a pretty junior who would be mean and shun me, and that what's-his-face was a slacker who just didn't care. But so-and-so turned out to be this incredible, down-to-earth girl who I love hanging out with, and what's-his-face was going through some tough stuff, but played guitar and loved the same bands as I did. It makes me sad to think I would've missed out on knowing these people!

Of course, some high schoolers are accepting and open to making new friends. However, there are still tons of kids at my school who aren't that accepting of strangers. For instance, I have a rather, er, eclectic taste in fashion. The other day, I wore one of my "outfits" to school, and I got several shots of what I call "The Look." As someone walks past, their eyes narrow, flickering first down, then up, as they survey your outfit. The translation: You're wearing that?

Honestly, I don't mind getting The Look. But I wish more people would be able to look at someone and say, "yes, this person looks different from me, but that shouldn't define my opinion of them." As cliched as this is going to sound, I challenge everyone who reads this to step up and make a change with the start of the new year. Talk to someone you normally wouldn't - maybe the kid who sits in the back of the room reading Tamora Pierce, or Sudoku-obsessed girl in your math class. You'll nearly always find that every new person you meet has a unique take on life and a story to tell.

I know it's a lot, stepping outside of your normal circle of friends and getting to know a totally different kind of person. But plenty of people at SSHS have already done it, and they are probably more open-minded, fun individuals because of it. Life (especially high school) is what you make of it, and the more people you meet, the more fun you'll have.

Marilyn Harris is a freshman at Steamboat Springs High School.

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