By Jenny Deveaux, IV Form
As I walk out of the kitchen, nervously clutching my plate of cereal and clear plastic cup of coffee, I scan the dining hall at all the faces that are, as always, judging everything about what they see. I stroll over to the salad bar to pick up two knives and turn and to face my opponent: the sixth form platform. I strut down the aisle, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. “Let’s sit over there,“ says my friend, gesturing to one of the tables in the middle of the dining hall. I respond with, “This is gonna be so awkward,” and keep walking down the aisle as she peels off to sit down with some other girls and gives me a concerned glance.
No one really notices me as I sit down with my strange meal, but as time goes on and no seniors join me on the platform, things become uncomfortable.
“What are you doing?” asks a junior, looking annoyed and concerned.
“Eating!” I snap and continue to stab my cereal with a knife. I sip my coffee nonchalantly and look around at my friends turning and pointing at me. I shoot them a smile and turn my focus to the rest of the dining hall. One senior comes up to me laughing and says, “Why are you sitting here?”
I try as hard not to crack and to stay strong for about four more minutes. I respond with the first thing that came to my head. “Oh, Faith’s meeting me here,” I squeak. Intimidated and embarrassed, I keep eating the cereal, methodically trying to balance the O’s on the flat surface of the knife and carefully raising them to my mouth.
The dining hall at this hour can best be described as dim lighting accompanied by soft conversations of today’s rough practice, the amount of homework people are neglecting to do, and excitement for Halloween, framed by a maze of wooden chairs, tables, and paneling. I attain little from eavesdropping on gossipy conversations so I decide to just observe all of the people in the dining hall. Faculty kids shovel food into their mouths as their siblings whine about not getting dessert and stressed parents wipe the kids’ mouths and push their chairs in, telling them, “We’ll have some tomorrow honey,” as if that could satisfy their immediate desire for some quality Flik cookies. Looking around the room, I reaffirm to myself how weird the portraits on the walls are and ponder whether the animal heads on the wall are real, spacing out completely as I monotonously move the knife from my plate to my mouth.
As my ten minutes comes to a close and after I have given up on the cereal, I start to think about leaving. The soft lull of chatter in the dining hall at dinner time is getting louder, so I decide to leave. Just as I get up, some seniors come up to the platform and once again, confront me. I give a brief explanation and scurry down the steps. Power-walking down the aisle, I look straight for the plate return and make no hesitation as I exit the dining hall.
It is never a comfortable experience not to fit in. Going against what society says is never easy, and forcing myself into an awkward situation was difficult. Belonging to one set of standards is hard because of society’s expectations of the standard, but defying that standard and doing something unique is even more challenging.
Though school traditions and privileges influence the idea of the sixth form platform, it was still a very socially awkward for me as an under former. It is one of those unwritten rules that St. Markers are expected to know and respect, but cannot be enforced by anything other than an intimidating senior’s threats and warnings. My action fell outside the norm because a fourth former should not be sitting on the sixth form platform without permission. The only thing that could have made the situation worse would have been if I’d been a freshman; then I would have been told to get off the platform, not asked.
In the moment, I feared confrontation by seniors that I didn’t know, and I feared being laughed at. In general, I was worried about what other people were thinking about me and it scared me to think of all of the negative feelings they could potentially have towards me in that moment. I also think that people my age are most afraid of not being accepted and not belonging. So naturally, the experience of sitting alone, in place where I was not welcome, was frightening.
People in the dining hall seemed to react slightly negatively to my actions, but overall didn’t care too much. I think that I confused people more than I annoyed them because others understood that I knew the seating expectations and were purposely breaking them, which was not my intention. Throughout the “awkward moment,” I was thinking to myself, what is the worst that could happen? What am I going to lose from doing this? I couldn’t think of an answer to either except for answers like, ‘they’ll think I’m annoying” or “they’ll say ‘Who does she think she is?’” But, I overcame all of those social insecurities and did it, realizing that they are just that, insecurities.
Jenny Deveaux is a IV Form day student from Hopkinton, Massachusetts. She is on the Student Voice Committee, plays soccer, and is interested in science and French.