By the time you enter college, it’s expected that you hate your hometown and everything associated with it. After all, you likely just spent the last decade forced to physically reside within the same 20-mile radius as your mind matured and ached for new, unexplored terrain. Disdain for your possibly conservative and definitely dull suburb is only natural. In fact, it’s often seen as a sign of growth, a sign that you’re ready to move on to bigger and better things. However, to lump your high school friends in the same category as your racist neighbors and TI-84 calculator—that is, a category of things you are desperate to leave behind—is completely unfair.
While I don’t think everyone wants to leave their high school friends at the drop of a hat, I certainly think there is a stigma to staying close with your high school friends as you all move into your college and adult lives. Those that choose to stay close to their high school friends are considered stuck in the past, not independent or strong enough to move into their college years alone. In some cases, this may be true. There’s certainly a logical correlation between an unhealthy attachment to the past and refusing to foster new college friendships. But in most cases, I don’t think people should be judged or deemed incapable of growth because they remain close with old friends.
High school friendships are, simply put, irreplaceable. To spend every single day with someone, stuck in the same shitty, cold, artificially-lit building, creates a bond that cannot be recreated in the fun and boundless setting of college. High school friends are by your side during some of the worst years of human life. They are there for your painful adolescent firsts and they are there making the seven hours, five days a week spent in a plastic chair a little more bearable.
More than just bonded by shared suffering, you’ll always have a deep connection to your high school friends because your personalities were literally formed side by side. As you discovered the music, clothes, movies, and behaviors that would become a permanent part of your identity, your high school friends were there, guiding you and sharing in the process. During your most impressionable years, they helped you form your perception of the world and you helped them form theirs.
Besides, high school friends that stay by your side into college have just simply been around longer than the new friends you’re likely making. They know the kid version of you and the budding adult version of you, and they like you regardless of whatever drastic changes your personality underwent between these two points.
Now, all this is not to discredit the friends that are made in college. College friends have expanded my worldview, challenged my identity, and given me some of my favorite memories. Their importance cannot be overlooked and although the title of this essay begs to differ, the two types of friendships really cannot be compared. Instead of setting up a competition between high school and college friends, what I mean to suggest is that there’s no reason a healthy high school friendship cannot progress into a priceless college friendship.
I personally made the mistake of entering college with the mindset that I couldn’t grow into my “college self” and still maintain ties with my high school friends. My closest friends and I had independently settled on the same college and I, thinking I’d be stuck in the past if I did otherwise, decided against rooming with any of them. Although I didn’t actively try to cut anyone out of my life, I was convinced that remaining close with old friends would hinder me from making the most of college.
However, I soon realized that when I was sick, tired, or itching to complain about something, it was my high school friends I turned to. I knew they wouldn’t mind bringing me Nyquil when I was sniffling in bed; I knew they wouldn’t be bored if our hangout consisted of us just laying around on our phones; I knew they wouldn’t think I was a pessimist for complaining about my rough week. These friendships were comfortable and easy, and they didn’t hinder me in the slightest. There was no reason to try to “move on” from them.
In fact, having my high school friends by my side during my college years has made my time far better. If I need to recharge and not hang out for a while, I can do that without having to fear that my relationships will suffer; they’re too old and strong for that. When I want an honest opinion on an outfit or a boy or a piece of writing, I have friends that have known me long enough to feel comfortable telling me the truth, even if it hurts. Through the ups and downs of college, having the stable force of my high school friendships supporting me is the very thing that has allowed me to become my best self.
That being said, if your high school friends only ever talk about the past or keep you tied to a version of yourself you don’t like, I can understand the urge to detach and invest more energy into friends that occupy this new and exciting phase of life with you. What it comes down to is finding people who love and support both the person you are and the person who you want to be; people who keep you feeling grounded, happy, and understood.
Ultimately, however you choose to transition—or not transition—your high school relationships to college, it should be done based on how you feel, not preconceived notions of “high school heroes” and what constitutes personal growth. By all means, move out of your boring hometown and step into the bright and boundless college life you’ve spent the last four years dreaming about, but don’t think that you have to neglect old friends in order to do so.
Illustration by Emma Baynes