Nobody knows more about developing reputations than I do. Since the beginning of my academic and social career here at East, I’ve been a little bit of everything (except an athlete, of course). I’m a writer, a blogger, a mean guy, a nice guy, good student, and bad student, just to name a few. But the only thing anyone, including myself, can truly do is be painfully aware of what others think. Pretending not to care can only get you so far, and a bad reputation can ruin even the best of students.
A reputation can turn even the most elite and adored of us into societal monsters. Charlie Sheen may be “winning,” but he’ll never live down his rep as a strung-out crack addict. To the world, Michael Vick is a dog killer, not a talented football player. Mel Gibson hates anyone in a yarmulke and will never land a job acting again because of it. So how does this apply to a high school student?
The thing is that while it’s easy to look at celebrities and laugh, it’s also easy to forget just how much a reputation even here in high school can cost us. The student body I’m addressing is full of young, interesting students with infinite potential for greatness. However, as high schoolers we’re still developing personality and character, no matter how much potential we have. A good reputation is nearly as easy to shatter as a B-rate ceramics project, and once shattered or broken, it can shift your high school experience faster and more drastically than Bernie Madoff’s living conditions.
We live in a one-strike-you’re-out system. One breathalyzer test can lead to zero college acceptances. A late-night ride home in handcuffs makes you every parent’s worst nightmare. A failed test and you’re stupid; a few consecutive A’s and you’re subject to racist “Asian” stereotypes. I have a friend who even lost a girlfriend because her mother didn’t like smokers, and it’s common high school mom-gossip that he’s been a pack-a-day smoker for a while. I’ve been turned down for jobs because of suspensions, lost friends for having a reputation of disloyalty, and entered classes at the beginning of the year with teachers already smirking at my name on the roster. At the end of the day, the point is not only to watch what your reputation is, but also to remember that you control the course it takes.
No one is innocent when it comes to building his or her reputation. The student who enters school every Monday with bite marks on his or her neck is just asking to be called degrading terms. If you’re caught drinking on campus, your behavior more than warrants being called an alcoholic. Our personal actions mean more now than we tend to realize, as these little “facts” about us can sneak their way into college recommendation letters and job reference checks. It’s always important to watch our actions closely, because we can never be too sure of what they’ll cost us in the future. After all, unlike Mr. Sheen, we won’t get more Twitter followers by making death threats to our ex-wives.