Might as well republish my essay about eighth grade graduation in Holmdel, N.J. It has appeared here before, but anyway:
(Note: All names have been changed to protect the obnoxious.)
“Oh my God!” my mother said to me. “The other girls are wearing $300 dresses! Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
It was June of 1985, and my family was sitting in our Chevy Citation outside of my junior high auditorium, the car idling as it faced a brick wall. I was there for my eighth grade graduation.
We had moved at the beginning of the school year to a wealthy central New Jersey town: farmy Holmdel, home to CEOs and actors’ offspring. We were already planning to move away, because we just didn’t fit in. One year in Holmdel was enough. We lived in the only “poor” development in the town. It wasn’t actually that poor, but it was old and across the street from Hazlet.
In Holmdel, the biggest insult occurred when a boy accused a teacher of buying his ties at K-Mart. Your parents had to own a new Porsche or comparable vehicle if you wanted to fit in. You were uncool unless you wore Guess jeans, Madonna bracelets and oversized fluorescent “Frankie Goes to Hollywood” shirts that said “Frankie Say: Relax! Don’t Do It!”
My mom watched the girls enter the gymnasium doors. “Maybe we should skip this,” my mother said. “I’ve never heard of someone wearing a $300 dress to a junior high graduation.”
I was shocked. She was letting me skip a school event because it might make me uncomfortable. When had that ever happened?
And why didn’t it apply to anything religious?
But I was resolved to go through with it. I was tired of not standing up for myself. At school, I was teased for being shy, and I never knew what to say in response when kids picked on me. I mostly turned away and looked at the ground. I never had good comebacks – until hours later, when I was home.
But now, I was going to go in there and stand with the others, no matter what.
Holmdel, New Jersey is 56 minutes southwest of Manhattan. It’s a place of horse farms and six-bedroom homes. The median household income is $112,879. My parents had moved there because the schools were top-notch. The only place we could afford to move into was the one middle-class development with 100-year-old homes that were close together. We paid $800 a month to rent a three-bedroom house.
At school, I frequently heard kids discussing which company their parents owned, and the fact that some of them were related to movie stars. One day, our health teacher was lecturing about cocaine addiction, and she asked, “Has anyone heard of the actress Lauren Tewes from Love Boat?” A girl raised her hand and said, “She's married to my uncle.”
Another day, our eighth grade English teacher was discussing stereotypes. “Let’s face it, we live in Holmdel,” she said sarcastically, walking across the room. “We are rich snobs!”
I didn’t laugh.
* * *
I made my way into the auditorium in my simple light blue dress. Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but it was only thirty-nine dollars at Bamberger’s. You wouldn’t know the price by looking at it; it was pretty nice, just fine for a junior high graduation.
All of us girls clustered backstage, around a giant cardboard box of corsages for us to choose from.
Most of the popular colors were gone. But I noticed one light blue corsage near the bottom. It was exactly the color of my dress! I snagged it.
When I looked up, Stacie Sasser was staring at me. Stacie had thick wavy black hair and freckles, as well as a giant gold STACIE necklace.
She turned to her friend Alyssa and asked very loudly, “Are there any blue corsages in there?”
Alyssa looked at me pointedly and then peered into the box. “No,” she said. “I don’t see any blue ones left.”
“Blue is really the only color I can wear with this dress,” Stacie said.
“You’re right,” Alyssa said to her. “Blue is the only color you can wear with that dress.”
They both looked at me.
I waited limply with my blue corsage in my hand. “You can have mine,” I said.
“Oh, thank you!” Stacie said, snatching it. “That is soooo nice of you! Alyssa, isn’t that soooo nice of her?”
“That is soooo nice of her,” Alyssa concurred.
I felt much better than if I’d kept the corsage and been hated.
We wandered around the heavy black curtains to the stage. The boys stood on one side, the girls on the other.
I remembered some of the things that had happened that year:
I remembered that several of the boys told a fat kid in our class that he “reeked.”
I remembered a blonde skater-boy wearing an Ocean Pacific hooded sweatshirt that said “No Fat Chicks.” Even then, I sort of thought someone in authority should talk to him about that.
I remembered a popular girl stealing a box of M&Ms that an unpopular girl was selling for band, and no one saying anything. She took it out from under the unpopular girl’s chair during class, and several people saw it. She winked and smiled at me when I noticed her doing it. For a moment, I felt cool. And then, kind of bad.
I remembered a girl looking at me in art class and saying, “Ooooh, I looooove your shoes,” just to mock me and amuse her friends.
I remembered our social studies teacher catching two girls passing a note ridiculing his pants.
On the stage that afternoon in June, in Holmdel, New Jersey, we launched into our chosen graduation song.
“We aaaaaaare the wooooorld!”
“We aaaaare the chiiiiiiiildren!”
“We are the ones who make a briiiighter day, so let’s start giiiiiiiving!”
“There’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives.”
“It’s you who make a better day … just yoooooooou and meeeeee!”
After we angels finished up, I scooted off the stage and went home to finish packing to move.