Sunday, April 20, 2014

Episode 16: Class of 2004 Reunion



My 10-year high school reunion is coming up this summer. To mark the occasion, I spoke to the 2004 Princeton High School Valedictorian, Meg Hersman. 

Delicious irony alert: We spoke over the phone, since she lives in Chicago. There are a couple points where her audio quality isn't perfect. I recorded a piece I placed before the interview apologizing for that audio quality... and then I experienced audio issues with that. I thought it was funny, so I kept it in.

Below is a partial transcript of our interview. In addition to all of this, we also talked about Meg's time at West Virginia University, discussed her time working at Starbucks and whether or not the "secret menu" is real, how many members of PHS's 2004 class we've had sex with (and who we'd have sex with today), and we rank all of the 2004 Class Reunion activities.

* * * 

Chris: I believe I graduated number 81 in the class. Did you do any better than that? 

Meg: Uh, yes, I was Valedictorian [laughs]. 

C: Valedictorian. Was that something you actively tried for, or did that just kind of happen? 

M: Well, there is a legend in my family that as a small child, when I found out what that word meant, because my mom had been Valedictorian when she graduated, that I declared a few days in to kindergarten that I was also going to be the Valedictorian. But, I did not think about that for a long time. I did want to do well, academically, but it wasn’t until class rankings came out at the end of Freshman year, and I was number two that I, like, actually really started to care about it. And, I don’t know why, but for some reason, like, number two was just like not acceptable. 

C: That’s the first loser. 

M: Yeah! No, not at all. But, just me being incredibly “Type A” and with number one so close, I just wanted it so bad. You know, in retrospect, it’s not actually a thing that matters at all. But, I really wanted to give that speech. 

C: I remember when you got it. You were the Valedictorian, and I believe Emma Faulkner was Salutatorian. 

M: Yes, she was. 

C: And I remember one of the complaints, like I heard this as an actual, legitimate kind of discussion: people were saying, they felt like she should have had it because she had more math classes and you were like, the “theater girl” and those classes didn’t really count. I’m in that same boat, I was newspaper and yearbook and they were like “He didn’t do anything, and he got A’s.” How do you feel about people who say classes like that are air quote “easy”? 

M: Ummm… I think that, can I swear on your podcast? 

C: Oh, go ahead. 

M: I think it’s bullshit. Well, so, okay. There are more AP classes - or, at least there were when we were there - there were more AP classes available in the STEM fields and I’ve always done well in those classes. I got a very high grade in AP chem. But, it wasn’t where I wanted to go with my life. So, and it’s you know, it’s still like, I’m very interested in science and I’m good at math. But, I, you know, what would have been the point in me filling up my schedule with classes that weren’t going to take me where I wanted to go. And, you know, I did take other AP classes. You know, I said I took AP chem. I’m sorry, that is wrong. I took regular chemistry because AP chem was offered during the same class period as my theater class, which was what I wanted to do. But, I did take AP lit and I took AP history and I did very well in those courses. And, everything that I could take as an Honor’s class, I took as an Honor’s class. Everybody has different interests and you shouldn’t be penalized just because you’re more interested in the arts and humanities as a career path, than you are in the STEM fields. 

C: Very true. To go back a little bit, I moved to Princeton for the 10th grade, so I know what it’s like to be a teenager in Princeton. I know what it’s like to be an adult in Princeton. Spoiler alert: it’s not fun. What was it like being a child in Princeton? Like, a little kid running around town? 

M: I was born there and I did live there all the way through high school. I think we left for like six months when I was a toddler. I will say that I met a lot of people that I graduated high school with, either in kindergarten or preschool. I went to one of the larger elementary schools; I went to Mercer Elementary. And, then, I was also at Princeton Middle School before Princeton High School. So, probably, I’m not sure how big of a school Glenwood [Elementary] is, as a feeder middle school. Probably, I want to guess, 60 percent of our class I knew before we got to high school. And, it was always like a big deal when we had a new kid in our class. It was always a big deal when somebody moved away. And, I also remember feeling that my classmates that I had class with had made up their mind about me and how they felt about me and I had done the same by probably the end of first or second grade. And, then, later on, I wanted to like kind of reinvent myself. I remember feeling like this the first time in the fourth grade and I at that point, all I wanted was to go by my middle name, which is Deniece [SP?], which nobody was having it. My teachers wouldn’t do it. My friends wouldn’t do it. And I just remember, like feeling this frustration, like “No one will let me be who I want to be.” And I honestly, felt that way probably through high school. 

C: I remember noticing that at the elementary school that I went to. Like, I was friends with a guy, like first grade, second grade, then we got into the grade school, like third, fourth, and fifth, he went off with his other friends and he became a jock, cool guy and I wasn’t, so we weren’t friends anymore. And, it’s just weird how that kind of stuff happens. 

… 

C: When you went to high school, started the ninth grade, were you excited about it? Were you weird about it? Uncomfortable? 

M: I was terrified. It was the first time I remember feeling, like, real social anxiety. In middle school, I was that horrible, obnoxious child who would, like walk around singing show tunes at the top of my lung with my best friend in the hallway in between classes and didn’t care what anybody thought. And, then high school, I remember being afraid to eat because I was afraid I’d throw up. I had one friend who was a senior … and I sat with her at lunch, her and her friends and I sat there and I talked to them, but my hands were shaking under the table and I wouldn’t eat. I felt that way most of freshman year. I don’t think I talked to any seniors when I was a freshman. And, there are some of those people that I made friendly acquaintances of later, that I realized how incredibly stupid it was as a 14-year-old I was like, “I’m not gonna talk to that kid because they’re 18 and they probably know ‘everything.’” And it was very silly. 

C: You had your core of friends. Did you make any more in high school, or did you kind of keep the same people that you already had? 

M: I made some more friends, particularly ninth grade, I had been in band in middle school and I wasn’t very good at it. I decided that I was gonna quit band in the ninth grade, that I wasn’t gonna be part of it. And, then all of my friends were in band and I didn’t have lunch with any of my friends, so I kind of made more friends out of necessity, mostly to have someone to sit with at lunch. And, I ended up joining the band sophomore year. Taking that year off was detrimental; I never got good at playing my instrument, it was kind of terrible. But, Mrs. Kade was wonderfully patient with me. 

C: Did you have a favorite class or teacher throughout high school? 

M: I had a lot of teachers I really liked. I remember as Valedictorian, I got to give a plaque to a teacher that I really appreciated. And I gave it to Mr. Bowling, the Spanish teacher and he was not well-liked among the students. And, I hadn’t told him I was giving it to him because I wanted it to be a surprise. They gave it out at Awards Day and he was actually not in the gym, he was in the cafeteria and someone had to go and find him so I could give him his plaque. I don’t know why; I just thought he was awesome. Part of it was, I could see he was frustrated too and I connected with that. I really liked him and I really liked Mrs. Phillips, the history teacher. Mrs. Sarles, I had for speech and AP English. And, also, Mrs. Russel, who I had for critical viewing and who had also been my teacher in the sixth grade. And, then, Mrs. Kade. Those are probably my favorites. Can I count Mr. Kade if I had him in middle school but I never took classes with him in high school? 

C: Yeah, we can do that. 

M: It’s quite a list. 

C: Well, it’s better to have a lot to list than not to be able to think of any. 

M: That is true. And, there is one teacher who will remain unnamed that I had a very antagonistic relationship with when I was in eleventh grade Honor’s English. He and I got into a little bit of a verbal tussle around The Great Gatsby and Emily Dickinson that was a very weird thing. I felt like he didn’t like me for the whole rest of his class. I didn’t like Emily Dickinson and I told him so. 

C: I remember hearing about this. I know who you’re talking about [laughs]. 

M: [laughs] That happened. He tried to take The Great Gatsby off the syllabus and I told him “You can’t do that, because the Board of Education said we have to read it.” He didn’t like that. 

C: Odd story about that, he asked Kelly out on a date after she graduated from high school. 

M: Oh my goodness. That’s scandalous. 

C: She politely declined. 

… 

C: When I was in high school, I wore weird necklaces and painted my fingernails black and I guess I kind of regret that now at 27. Did you have anything that, looking back, you regret? 

M: It’s gonna sound funny, because I have short hair now. But, I regret the short haircut that I had sophomore year. It was very trendy and it looked very dated in pictures. And, it didn’t do anything for my face. My face has thinned out a little bit, but it was very round in high school. And, there was this super-trendy haircut that was like a pixie cut that was spiky on the back of your head that I had and it made me look like the blowfish from The Little Mermaid. It was pretty awful. And, growing it out wasn’t fun. So, that’s a thing I regret. 

... 

C: Do you remember the school day on September 11, 2001? We were in the tenth grade. 

M: Yes, I do. I was in algebra II. I believe that was first block, like maybe toward the end of first block. And, I had… Oooh, I can’t remember her name. Ummm… Oh gosh, that’s upsetting. I really liked her. The little old lady who taught algebra II. 

C: Mrs. Smith? 

M: No. I had Mrs. Smith for geometry the year before. 

C: I failed geometry [laughs]. 

M: That’s a hard class [laughs]. But, we were sitting in algebra II. I sat with Arwha Ghabra and Kellen Henry, who was my best friend in high school and is still a good friend of mine. I just remember Mrs. Wells, the history teacher, she came running through the door. She just like threw the door open and she was panting, like I think she had been running up and down the hallway. And just said, “Turn on the TV!” And that was all she said. I remember the teacher turned the TV on and everybody was just completely transfixed for the rest of class. The rest of the day, I just don’t remember at all. 

… 

C: Was it important for you to go to a school far away from home? Did you want to break away from Princeton? 

M: I did. I missed my parents a lot. I’ve always been really close to my parents. But, I thought WVU was far enough away that I could be far away from Princeton and I’d still see people that I knew and still have like some element of familiarity. But, for the most part, the whole world be new and that was what I wanted. I touched on this in my silly valedictory speech, but I’ve always been kind of a risk taker and it just seemed like close to home seemed so safe. And, that was a big turn off for me. 

C: I would honestly say one of the biggest regrets in my life is that I went to school at Concord University. They didn’t have what I needed to help me succeed in life, and as such I haven’t succeeded in life to the degree that I want to. I feel like a bigger school somewhere would have been better for me. 

… 

M: One day on my birthday, I think sophomore year, the Second City touring company came to Morgantown. And, pretty much the entire department went to the show at this theater downtown. And, I was transfixed and totally obsessed immediately. The improv class is repeatable, but you can only take it junior and senior year. I was the only person who took it both years. Most of the people in my class never even took it once. I took it and it was it was “my thing.” I was getting compliments from senior when I took it as a junior and they were telling me how good at it I was and how I should do it more. So, then we graduated and my entire class split off and went to New York and LA. And, I came to Chicago all by myself and I took a lot of classes at Second City and then I kind of fell into standup and that’s where I am now. 

C: For those who don’t know, what exactly is Second City and who are some people that are known for that. 

M: Second City is a comedy theater here in Chicago. They have a branch in Toronto and a training center in Hollywood. They have touring companies and companies that go on tour ships. What they do is they use improvisation to create sketch comedy. So, probably the two biggest names that have ever come out of Second City are John Belushi and Bill Murray. But, also, Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch. And, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell and Tim Meadows. And, I could go on forever. 

… 

C: What’s odd for me, is I’m actually friends with more people from high school now than I ever was in high school. There are people that I didn’t talk to at all who are like my best friends now. I guess that shows how you get with your friends and never really get out of it. Then, you get into the “real world” and it doesn’t really matter as much. So, speaking of friends and all this 10-year nonsense, the big thing: our high school reunion is coming up sometime this summer. Do you know if you’re coming down? 

M: I don’t think I will be attending. I’m having a really busy summer here in Chicago. I’m sure that I would make connections, new connections with people I’m not expecting if I were to go. But, I just don’t really feel the desire to and I hope that that doesn’t offend anybody. 

C: Honestly, the reunion is gonna be down the street from me and I don’t think I’m gonna go, to be completely honest. 

M: Well, you see a lot of those people anyway, right? 

C: Yeah, I see the people I want to see. We have to pay like $35? I don’t wanna pay $35 to go see Stephanie Crowe and Brandon Etter. I never talked to them.

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