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The On Being Project

Revisiting Memories of Middle School

Often, middle school/junior high is used as shorthand in our cultural consciousness to suggest discomfort, pettiness, and emotional upheaval that’s all too familiar. Last month it even crept into the ongoing political debates between the 2016 Republican candidates when Sen. Rand Paul chided his opponent’s obsession with physical attributes saying, “My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that?”

There’s all kinds of research that validates this collective disapproval of middle school behavior. A recent study estimated that approximately half of friendships formed during middle school/junior high do not last a full school year, and only one percent last through twelfth grade. The study suggested the “doomed” nature of pre-teen friendships and the inevitable drifting apart of once close friends.

But, I wonder, do we reduce middle school/junior high to ripe emotional ground for bullies and mistakenly forget that it is also ripe emotional ground for budding friendships — friendships with schoolmates, teachers, and family members that are just as formative? In most coverage of this new study, few seemed to consider the power of such hard and fast friendships, and, regardless of their instability, they happened and mattered — and probably continue to matter.

People determine the way we remember what we remember. I’m 22 and often find myself revisiting memories of people I knew in middle school, the emotionally charged years of early puberty. My own bout of middle school drama saw this trend of rapid-fire friendship make and breaks, an emotional whiplash that had me dizzy for most of seventh grade. I spent the majority of that year hurt by friends turned bullies, surprised and confused by the inconstancy of the contracts I’d felt we signed.

And yet, nearly a decade later, I am encouraged to consider the benefits of these flexible social agreements developed in middle school. Though loyalty was easily lost, it was also easily gained. There were girls willing to offer their loyalty and become my new “best friends” once they saw me struggling to feel included. Together, these girls and I rapidly built close friendships during an intimate end to early adolescence; as I get older, they are the ones I most often think of when I revisit middle school.

So, I’m curious:

When you think of middle school or junior high, what person or story comes to mind?

Share your story here as part of the On Being Your Audio Selfie project. I’ll be reading your responses and reaching out to several of you for interviews. I look forward to hearing your reflections as we collectively reflect on the people who populate our memories of middle school.

Share Your Reflection