Our media culture is so totally awash with scripted depictions of the high school experience, that it's a little uncomfortable how obsessed we are with such an awkward and confusing time in our lives. The list is truly extensive: 90210, Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Friday Night Lights, Saved By The Bell, The OC, Awkward, Freaks and Geeks, Glee, Mean Girls, Clueless, The Breakfast Club, Never Been Kissed, to name a few (I'm sure you have some in mind to add). This fascination with high school culture is a little unnerving. I mean really, what was so great about awkward hair cuts, learning to use makeup, having to swim during gym class, and navigating sexual curiosity with a bunch of judgmental and hormonal teens?
With that said, maybe the headline “34-Year-Old Texas Woman Arrested for Posing as High School Sophomore” isn’t entirely shocking…
In Longview Texas, Charity Johnson had been living the life of a high school sophomore under the alias “Charite Stevens,” and everybody bought it. The Principal at New Life Christian School in Longview describes Johnson’s behavior: “she acted like a 15-16 year old. She was an attentive student, respectful, did her homework.”
Tamica Lincoln, the woman Johnson had been staying with, was similarly hoodwinked and speaks about how the two met: “I sympathized with her, and invited her into my home. I took her in as a child, did her hair, got her clothes and shoes.” She doesn’t say what made her suspect that Johnson had been using a false identity, but it was her call to the police that lead to Johnson's arrest.
It could be widely speculated why a 34-year-old woman would dedicate her life to living as a high school student again. Maybe she was in need of a place to stay, maybe her real life was too dangerous, maybe she never finished her own high school education, maybe her alias was what she thought of as her new shot at life--or maybe she really really really didn't want to be an adult. I mean, I know what that feels like. Pulling a Peter Pan sounds real nice right about now.
Still pretty weird though, right? But surprisingly, this is not the first time that something like this has happened.
In 2007, a man named Markeith Smith attended more than a dozen Dallas high schools claiming to be a high school freshman wanting to join the football team. In 1997, 28-year-old Treva Throneberry (pictured above) attended Evergreen High School in Vancouver posing as a 16 year old girl named Brianna Stewart. She claimed to be a runaway who had been taken in by a local family. Once her identity was finally discovered it was realized that Throneberry had been posing as a teenager in a variety of cities for ten years!!
While these are clearly extreme examples, it still begs a critical look at our culture’s odd obsession and glorification of high school, as illustrated by the overwhelming array of movies/TV Shows of this nature, and also the mid-twenty-something actors who are still playing in these roles (or the almost-thirty actors in the movie version of Grease). Is this maybe a result of a sense of comfort and reliability fictitiously associated with high school? High school is seen as a place to enjoy the black-and-white clarity of pre- adulthood, where little seems more important than prom dates and pimples, and whether you'll stay with your boyfriend when you go away to college.
Honestly, I see something fundamentally f*cked up about all of that. Everyone has to get older, there is no escaping that. But for some reason our culture still encourages a yearning for our adolescence, as if it was the best of our days. As one of my favorite literary quotes goes: “so we beat on, boat against the current- born back ceaselessly into the past.”