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I went to a private, Catholic high school. Being good at school was essential for popularity, being bad at school made you an outcast.
But our valedictorian was almost universally hated. He had a few friends, but not many. He wasn’t hated because he had good grades; he was hated because he was a generally unpleasant, whiny person, and he would do anything to maintain his GPA. He didn’t take the most challenging classes. He would try to wheedle his way to a better grade, get hints on tests, etc. Apparently he once cried in class when he got an A- on a test (I wasn’t present for that one).
On a personal level, he ended up having a very important impact on my life. Most of my classmates attended Catholic middle school together, if not elementary school. I joined up as a freshman in high school. I am pretty nerdy; I found some friends, but wasn’t really known very well socially through my freshman year.
Early in my sophomore year, the future valedictorian pissed me off in the lunchroom one day. I ate lunch at a particular table every day, with the same group of friends (not anyone terribly popular). One day I was last to arrive, and F.V. was sitting at the table. He refused to leave. My friends told him that they didn’t want him there, to get the fuck out, but he refused. I decided to force the issue. Some milk ended up spilled on me, and I decided that was it. I dumped the glass on his head.
He cried, I went to go get a mop to clean it up. The entire lunchroom erupted in cheers. Upperclassmen came over to congratulate me, I was a celebrity. I ended up being banished from the hot lunch room for two weeks. A few upperclassmen I knew a little bit from playing (badly) on the football team invited me to eat with them for the two weeks in the cold lunch room. They became friends. I ended up being in two social circles for the rest of high school, the nerdy one and a more popular one. I was far from the prom king, but I honestly went from being very much on the fringes of society to having a place solidly in the middle.
I realize that what happened can be construed as an act of bullying; I think I would label it as such. I am not the least bit sorry for it. F.V. deserved what he got. He was a genuinely unpleasant, infantile person when I knew him. I assume he’s a different person now. It’s fine to be unpopular; it isn’t OK to try to force other people to hang out with you, or glom onto social groups where it’s clear you aren’t welcome.
The great irony with F.V. is that all of his focus on being the top student was unnecessary. He was a good, not great student, in terms of his aptitude (ie, test scores). One reason why many people were so angry about him being the valedictorian was that he was not aiming for the best colleges. He wanted to work for the DNR. He attended a local public university that is good, but not the state flagship. In contrast, we sent three to Northwestern (out of 100), I went to the University of Chicago, we sent someone to Notre Dame, and he probably could have gone somewhere better but his dad insisted on a Catholic school (God, I do not like Domers). F.V. did not need to be valedictorian to put himself on the path he wanted in life.
For the record, our salutatorian was perhaps the most popular person in our class, and beloved by everyone. I can’t think of a single bad thing to say about her.
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