You should probably know that for whatever reason (possibly peer pressure and/or lack of any other logical choice for the title), my high school graduating class voted me “Most Likely to Be Famous.” When you open my senior yearbook, you’ll see a photo of my fellow title-holder/BFF Taylor and me posing as though we were signing autographs for our “adoring fans.” It’s a silly photo, but I remember feeling important having some tiny bit of recognition from my classmates. Which is also silly. Fact: high school, overall, is silly. Anyway, the point is that enough people knew about my dreams of chasing an acting career to give me an extra yearbook photo and a Senior “Most” Award, which as you know, is basically a precursor to winning a People’s Choice Award.
Back then, I thought I had gotten one of the best senior awards, and not just because it was the only one I got. Even now, I still think that. I mean, “Best Dressed” is already dated. I was never going to win “Cutest Couple” because the only guy I really dated in high school went to a different school and turned out to be gay, which I should have realized when he was too complimentary of my outfits and then started dressing like Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink with bolo ties (Love you, Matt. Seriously.). “Most Likely to Never Leave” is beyond sad. Looking at my frizzy, wild hair post-early morning marching band practice, no one would have voted me “Best Hair,” and I wouldn’t have wanted it anyway as I’m pretty sure that means you have to compete against Friends-era Jennifer Aniston and Nashville’s Connie Britton in some elitist hair pageant or something.
I suppose “Most Likely to Be President” would have been fine, except I was never in student council and had no political ambitions and would never have been as smooth as Bill Clinton at getting out of awkward situations.
So of all the choices, I got “Most Likely to Be Famous,” and along with it, a burden.
Why, you ask, is getting a silly senior class award a burden? Because you don’t actually realize it’s now the weird future point of judgment for everything you do after high school. My award is actually more like a goal, career results-based. Sure, you can win “Best Hair” in high school and still be trying to live up to it each year, but “Most Likely to Be Famous” carries with it this whole host of issues.
Now, don’t get me wrong: fame is fleeting and not the most fulfilling of life plans. Some people spend their whole lives chasing fame; the whole reality TV scene is based upon this principle. And if I wanted to try to get famous quickly, I’d submit my name for the Real World or Big Brother or something else involving too much making out in a probably highly unsanitary hot tub. If you pander to the cameras and play up your personality, you might just be America’s topic of conversation for a hot second or a few clever internet memes.
But the kind of notoriety I would want is the kind built around career achievements; my acting work and the roles I’ve played. This takes patience and hard work and with it the risk that I may never achieve Meryl Streep-esque notoriety. This kind of fame is the one I would prefer and the one I’d want to seek out. The kind where nobody is reading a blurb about you in Us Weekly wondering if you’re dating John Mayer. The kind where everyone is instead only reading about what new film or play you’re working on or just finished. When I received that “Most Likely To Be Famous” title, THIS is the kind of fame I’d pictured and knew would be a long road to REALLY earning the title I’d been bequeathed by my classmates.
Of course, does anyone take these senior awards seriously anyway once you’re out of high school? No. But looking back on that time in my life through the pages of that yearbook reminded me that once we all DID take it a little seriously. We measured our popularity, achievements, and visibility by the amount of page numbers listed by our names in the yearbook index: the more you had, the more remembered you’d be. We all wanted so desperately to be remembered a certain way: cool, involved, outstanding even. Our senior awards were the last crowning achievements we’d get before we became lowly freshman once again in college. To be a “Most Likely” was to be a star; the high school equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Every time anyone opens up that particular yearbook from 2007, they will see my toothy visage and name underneath my “Most Likely” award. I have been immortalized as someone who was known for something in high school.
But what if I don’t live up to my Senior Most? What if I never achieve the fame for which I was supposedly destined, according to the Fulton High School Class of 2007? Why do I even care? I suppose that we all, in some ways, worry about our other people’s perceptions of us, and high school has always been a breeding ground for insecurities that can last well into adulthood. I myself was always an A-student, so to get anything less, to not be constantly the best has always been a personal battle; learning to let go of that perfectionism is something I work on every day. Would people think less of me if I didn’t achieve all the time (and specifically achieve this particular thing)? Honestly, no. And it’s hard for me to admit that, because I’m too wrapped up in my own neuroses, but it’s true. The minute you start letting your life be defined by what other people think of you is the minute it ceases being YOUR life.
AND no matter what group you belonged to in high school, I know now it was a weird time for everyone. Nobody actually feels cool in high school. It’s this secret no one tells you until you graduate and start getting older and forgetting about the bullshit of it all and really talking to one another. We make so many assumptions in high school about other people. It still cracks me up that some of my high school classmates get surprised when I tell them about some of my wilder nights in college and here in the City. “You drink?” they ask me astonished. Uh, yeah. I’m a normal twenty-five year old woman. Surprise! Tequila does just as much damage to my liver and memories and judgment as you.
We’re all seeking to be a “most” in something in our life, whether that be in our career or relationships or families. We want people to remember us for something unique to us, something that gave our lives some semblance of meaning. Life isn’t measured by yearbook mentions, it’s about what we do and who we are, the people whose lives we touch. You can’t measure those things or turn them into some “most” award, truthfully. Success is a personal thing, its definition changing person-to-person, life-to-life. What I want for MY life, what makes me a success, is no one else’s business but mine.
I may never become famous the way my high school yearbook predicted, and I’m okay with that. Seriously. My senior “most” award, like many of my (questionable) outfits from that part of my life, is just a relic of an era-gone-by. It belongs to a person I barely recognize anymore, a person who has grown so far beyond the one in that photo. It’s almost shocking to look at her and realize that was me a little less than a decade ago, that I was so thrilled about something so trivial. It’s then that I realize just how much I have changed, how much life I have lived since then for better or worse.
And to be honest, if I could give myself any award these days, it would be “Most Improved.”