Insider's Guide to High School The Tattoo

Don’t get lost in the system

BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — As I look back on the last four years, I am filled with a silly sort of nostalgia one never imagines he’ll have about the high school experience. I remember lessons I’ve learned that have nothing to do with parabolas or the five paragraph essay, the scientific method or obscure foreign verb tenses.

The most important lessons I’ve learned — those I’ll take with me farthest and longest, have been practical lessons: assume nothing, don’t compromise, take responsibility, DO NOT procrastinate.

And, when I think of these things, I’m filled also with that warm, just-out-of-the-dryer feeling about the teachers and friends who’ve taught me these things. I’ve been fortunate to have had many great mentors, many great leaders.

But then, as I remember each of them and what they’ve taught me — all those selfless people who’ve spent hours filling empty, sometimes disinterested students with knowledge, pride and determination, I realize the person who’s taught me the most about life and living in the past few years did the least work possible, and as slowly as he could.

For his seemingly endless ineptitude, complete inability to communicate and staggering overconfidence in the face of a complete lack of skill and resource, I am forever indebted to my guidance counselor.

Yes the guidance counselor — the one who pulls the strings. Even more than the gym teacher, this is the man or woman who can make or destroy you with an accidental twitch. Classes, transcripts, letters of recommendation — it’s dizzying how much power they have, really.

Mine was not a pleasant experience, it’s true — but if not for the manipulation and deception of this champion bungler and my constant trial, I might never have learned the following lessons:

1) GO TO THE TOP. Bureaucracy, in high school as in life, is the root of all evil.

If you can possibly go over the head of the person you’re handing vital information to or entrusting with a great responsibility — do so.

If it’s going to go to the next level anyway, take it there yourself.

Some may see that as rude, but I’ve found it to be necessary. If you really care about your education, well-being and future, deal with as few people as possible.


If you want to take a class and your guidance counselor says you can’t, check it out yourself. If he says you have to take a class you’re uncomfortable with, check it out yourself. If he cites a rule or regulation or, in fact, makes any hard and fast statement about anything, ask to see it in print.

Make sure you know you’re hearing the truth and not the quick answer.

DO NOT be put into a class you’re unprepared for and DO NOT settle if you’re not sure.

The halls and classrooms are littered with miserable kids who are convinced that they HAVE to be doing what they’re doing, that they have no choice, because they’ve taken their guidance counselors at their words.

These people are not gods. They’re not even angels. Hell, they’re not even checkpoint charlies at the gates of purgatory.

See that pile of junk on their desk? You’re in there somewhere. So’s everybody else you know. Kinda makes you queasy, doesn’t it?

3) MAKE COPIES. If there is one copy of anything — a letter of recommendation, a transcript, an absence excuse — someone in a tie WILL lose it.

Spend five minutes soaking up radiation at the copy machine and start a file — when he says he’s lost it, call him on it — show him you’re a step ahead.

4) KNOW YOUR DEADLINES. This seems easy enough.

What I really mean to say is, make sure THEY know your deadlines.

There’s no quicker way to make yourself late than to allow something to be mailed for you if you can do it yourself, or to depend upon your guidance counselor for some vital piece of a deadline package.

I once actually had to stand over the shoulder of my guidance counselor to make sure he faxed my transcript THE DAY OF a college deadline because he hadn’t mailed it yet.


Everyone wants to be pleasant. More flies with honey and all that, right? But the thing is — and this is a lesson you’ll learn repeatedly throughout your high school career —- if people smell fear or apprehension on you, if they think you’ll go quietly when dissatisfied or compromise when faced with adversity, you’re dead in the water.

In a busy day on a busy job the last thing your guidance counselor (or anyone else for that matter) wants is a student who’s a wall — an impenetrable force for what he wants or needs — and he certainly doesn’t want to have to meet your parents, Mr. and Mrs. Wall. If he understands that you are that wall, spawn of those parents, he’s not going to push you around.

That being said, remember this — not all guidance counselors are evil. Some of them genuinely want to help you — you’ll know them in the first few minutes and they’d probably agree with everything I’ve said here. If you’re lucky enough to meet a good guy, make him your friend immediately — it’s nice to have friends on the inside.

Joe Wilbur is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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