Jeff Pearlman

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Emily Schaeffer

#190
Instagram, dress code drama, dating uncertainties, wardrobe hostilities, peer pressure, college applications, zits. It's said high school is the best time of a person's life. My question: Are those uttering such a sentiment on crack? POSTED January 20, 2015

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Last October, I was scanning through Facebook when I stumbled upon an angry rant from Jessica Kupferman, my former University of Delaware classmate. It seems that her 17-year-old daughter, Emily, had been sent home from Brandywine (Del.) High for violating the school’s dress code. This is what she was wearing …

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Yup. It’s a cruddy jacket and black leggings. As sexy and risque as a stick of Trident. While I enjoyed Jessica’s angry ode to stupid academic rules, what truly got me was the aftermath. Namely, instead of meekly adhering to poorly constructed regulations and fading into the abyss, Emily battled back. She spoke up, spoke out and drew the interest of local media. And while I don’t know if anything changed, I found myself overflowing with respect for the young woman.

Which brings us to the 190th Quaz.

Emily Schaeffer is a high school senior unafraid to put herself out there. I asked her mom if her daughter would consider being Quazed, and the response was a quick, “Absolutely!” Will she discuss what it’s like to be a high schooler in great detail? “Absolutely!”

This was no lie.

If you’re a parent, wondering what your teen is thinking, meet Emily. If you’re a teen, wondering why you feel so alone, meet Emily. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s vulnerable, she’s aware.

She’s an absolutely fantastic Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK Emily, so this all starts with a Facebook post from your mom, who was outraged by reaction from a school administrator to the (jarringly unrevealing) outfit you wore to Brandywine High School recently. Your mother said a school official saw you and said, “I’ve had enough of this with you. No more leggings for you ever.” So … what happened? In detail …

EMILY SCHAEFFER: OK, just as a little back story, the code of conduct says that you’re not allowed to wear “form fitting pants” without a shirt that covers four inches above the knee. I wore leggings only one other time this school year and I was asked to change, and I was compliant.

So I came to school an hour late wearing my aunt’s plus-size jacket. I went into the office and my administrator saw me and pulled me aside. He told me something along the lines of, “It’s something every day with you. You’re not allowed to wear leggings. And since you’ve already missed so much school, I want you to go home and change.”

For a moment I tried to tell him, “But Mr. Regan, I know this is covering up to four inches …” He replied by repeating what he said before. I drove all the way back home to change and came back to school, missing another hour of class time.

J.P.: It sounds like this is something of an ongoing issue at your school: the way female students dress, and the reaction of administrators—most of whom (I’m guessing) are male. Am I wrong? Right?

E.S.: There are three male and two female administrators at Brandywine. And, honestly, the only ongoing issue is the inconsistency of the rules. Some days no one will say anything to students about dress code. Others, you’ll either have to wait in the “time-out” room for a parent to bring you a change of clothes, or you’ll get sent home to change. I’ve heard they like to “make examples” out of some girls.

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J.P.: I can’t imagine being a high schooler in 2015. It just seems sorta sucky, especially with all the technology, everyone on Instagram, talking shit, showing pictures of the party you weren’t invited to. Tell me—what role does social media have on the life of the current high schooler? And is it more for the better of the worse?

E.S.: Instagram and Twitter have a huge role in the lives of average high schoolers. Personally, I don’t have Twitter—I think it’s the worst of them all. Social media has led everyone my age to believe that every thought they have throughout the day is important and worth sharing with the public. Social media has been in my life since the sixth grade, and because it’s been in my life my entire teenage years, I have literal documentation of everything I’ve ever done or thought from age 12 until now. It’s horrifying. No one should be reminded of how awful they were when they were 14 and 15. Before you turn 16, you are a completely different kind of person than you will be for the rest of your life. And the horribly embarrassing things you say and do on the Internet as a pre-teen potentially have the power to hurt you later in life. That being said, social media has given a voice to an entirely different kind of bully. I’ve been on both ends of cyber bullying. I know how it feels to completely trash someone online, knowing only I have the power to delete it. People can “like” what I say. I also know how it feels to read the post that someone wrote about you, feeling your stomach turn in knots and your heart drop. It’s total power, and total humiliation.

Between arguing with people online, the “shit talking” like you said, and the naked pictures and personal relationship things like that—I think i speak for a lot of people when I say social media has made life as a teenager extremely difficult.

J.P.: I never thought about body image in high school. Never thought about the value of how I looked; whether I was too fat or too skinny. None of that. But it seems like girls are under such insane pressure to look a certain way. Do you feel it? And, if so, how does that manifest itself?

E.S.: All over television you see women who are skinny and covered with makeup. You see women with big boobs and little waists. You hear men on the radio talking about big butts and long hair. I know as a young girl I felt so awkward because I didn’t have what these women had. I felt like total shit about myself for a really long time because all these women were special. They were being talked about in songs and they were on my television. I didn’t feel as special as them because of this. And it’s not just your weight or your makeup, it’s also how your peers will look at you. Boring or slutty. Like a good girl or a whore. I don’t really know how to explain how it manifests itself. It’s messy. It’s a constant battle with a bitter voice in your head. “I want to eat this—no, you need to stay thin.” Or “I want to wear this dress —no, you’ll look like a whore.”  Or “I want to wear this shirt—no, youll look like an idiot. Show some more skin.”

I’ve spent the majority of my teenage years trying to find the right balance of makeup, the right balance of skin to show, the right kinds of clothes and the right styles of hair. It’s hard enough trying to find yourself as it is. The pressure to be perfect makes it worse. Every girl who reads this will relate to looking in the mirror and picking herself apart. Every girl will relate to seeing a really beautiful woman and getting knots of jealousy and sadness because they don’t look like she does.

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With Nate, her brother.

J.P.: Blunt question. My daughter is entering puberty, and it scares the hell out of me. You’re 18. A high school senior. You’ve been through it. How should I, as a dad, handle this stage? Is there a Do list and a DON’T DO list?

E.S.: Always always always talk to your daughter. Remind her that she’ll make a lot of mistakes, but you’ll always be there to listen to her and to help her. Tell her that you’ll always be there to protect her from the mean girls at school and the boys (or girls) who break her heart. Make sure she knows she’ll always have you to support and love her. Tell her she’s beautiful and loved. That she can be anyone she wants to be and do anything she wants to do.

J.P.: Do you feel like you understand boys? How they think? Why they act the way they do? Do you find them mostly infuriating, endearing or frustrating?

E.S.: I don’t really want to generalize the actions and feelings of an entire gender. Every boy is different. But everyone is a product of their surroundings, so I think there are a lot of different types of boys who act generally similar. And it all depends. I think some boys are great. Other boys could get hit by a bus for all I care.

J.P.: There’s a perception out there that your generation is pretty dumb and disinterested. Fair? Unfair? Do you think most of your classmates know about ISIS? Ebola? The California drought? Or is it all about college and Saturday night parties?

E.S.: I think that perception is totally unfair. I think my generation, for the most part, is a lot more insightful and intelligent than people think. Yes, my classmates know about ISIS and Ebola. Aside from what i think about social media, it’s also very resourceful. People my age talk about “world issues” online a lot. I don’t think my generation is filled with a bunch of idiots, but I do think my generation is somewhat desensitized about the world.

Emily with her mother, Jessica.

Emily with her mother, Jessica.

J.P.: Back when I was your age, I’m pretty sure I thought of people in their 40s as ancient. I’m 42. Am I ancient to you? And, more to the point, do you ever think about aging? About death? Or is it mostly the here and now?

E.S.: No! you’re definitely not ancient. I can’t wait to be older. Being a teenager sucks so bad. I feel like I’m a lot smarter than everyone treats me. I do think about aging. Having a job, being done with school and having real responsibilities sounds like a dream, honestly. And, yes, I do think about death. It’s a little disappointing to think that this is it. You do whatever you’re allowed to do, whatever you can do to survive your whole life, just to die and that be it. I wonder, Does your brain just turn off? What happens? Where do you go? i don’t believe in a magical man in the sky. I don’t believe there’s some magical place you go after you die to hang out with everyone on the history of the earth who’s ever died. I think science has proven religion to be a bunch of crap. But thank you for giving me a minor existential crisis.

J.P.: I know shitloads of people who look back at high school as the best time of their life. Do you think that’s genuinely true, or merely a glossy flashback? Because I sorta remember high school being really hard and awkward and pressure-stuffed.

E.S.: I think that’s a really general question. I think it’s different for everyone. I’m sure some people really did love high school. I’m sure it scared the living hell out of others. Personally, I think some adults just say that because they didn’t have any real responsibilities back then. I’m sure that everyone’s disappointed being an adult and not a kid anymore. I assume nothing is fun or carefree anymore for most people.

J.P.: What do you hope to do with your life? And do you have hope in humanity?

E.S.: I hope to change something in the world. Whether it be with my voice or something I physically do. I don’t want to live my whole life being a waste of space. You can do anything you want to do, I feel nothing holding me back in my life. So knowing that, I want to do something that made my life worth remembering. Or just simply living. And yes, I do have hope for humanity. I don’t think everyone in the world is evil, i think the evil people are just more exciting to talk about.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH EMILY SCHAEFFER:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Taylor Swift, Radiohead, Chief Justice John Roberts, Wilmington Blue Rocks, “A Walk to Remember,” Lenny Kravitz, blocks of cheese, math class, Sparky Lyle: Chief Justice John Roberts, Sparky Lyle, Taylor Swift (as a person, NOT as an artist), blocks of cheese, Wilmington Blue Rocks, Radiohead, math class, Lenny Kravitz, “A Walk to Remember.”

• Be honest with me—have you ever heard of Hall and Oates? And do you know any of their songs?: Yes, i have. Maneater was written about me actually.

• Five reasons one should live in Delaware: 1. Please don’t. 2. It’s close to Philadelphia. 3. It’s close to the beach. 4. It’s a small state so it won’t take long to escape. 5. Wawa.

• Five all-time favorite musicians: City and Colour, Queen, Neck Deep, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Def Leppard.

• Tell me one thing about your mom that could embarrass her: My mom is a terrible cook and makes a decent dinner like, once a year on Thanksgiving. It’s usually good but she still burned half the skin off her arm one year from turkey juice. Another time she burned the outside of the bird and the inside was still frozen.

• Do you support the legalization of marijuana. Why or why not?: Yes and no, mostly no. I think it’s mind-altering and I don’t really want to live in a world where people can walk around high all day. There’s a weird obsession people have with smoking weed that I’ll never understand, but I feel like that’s only because it’s not allowed so it’s “cool and exciting.” But at the same time, I think it should because that fascination wouldn’t be so strong. Also because iId be a total hypocrite not to think it should be legalized. I think alcohol should be legal and it’s just as bad for you.

• Tell me a joke: I can only think of “yo mama” jokes and they’re all offensive, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Lol

• I want my kids to stop growing so fast. Any ideas how to make it all slow down?: Spend time with your kids, just them. If you take away their phones and friends and Internet and actually hang out with them and talk to them, you’ll see they’re still really young. Also try to be a part of the things they do with their friends or by themselves.

• Why do so many people enjoy the music of One Direction?: Because it’s simple. Easy lyrics to remember on top of a simple repetitive beat. Everything is repetitive. and the lyrics are general enough that every girl in the world can think, “Wow these cute boys are talking about a girl just like me!” Because children are lost.

• What’s the nicest thing someone has done for you?: When I got my wisdom teeth out, my mom kept bringing me literally piles of toast to eat since it’s all I could chew. Like every hour on the hour she made me four-to-six pieces of toast with butter, and would refill whenever I asked.

  • Cd1515

    great idea for a Quaz, Jeff, I had no idea what a typical high schooler thinks or goes through.
    this girl seemed really bright.

    and from the pics here, she appears to be thin and pretty.
    if SHE feels pressure and worries about not looking good enough for today’s society, I can only imagine how badly others her age must feel.
    what an eye-opener.

  • Matt O’D

    Great job

  • Gorfabb

    Is Emily Schaeffer with the Turnbull ACs? Because I think she’s throwing up their gang sign in that first picture.

  • Sanford Sklansky

    She is on her way to being a good little republican if she put John Roberts number one on her list. I am surprised she knows who Sparky Lyle. I have two sons who will be 32 and 28, are baseball fans and doubt they know who Sparky Lyle is.

  • Karen Akers

    Emily – you’re amazing: Articulate, thoughtful, sassy and smart. Please know that whatever crap high school throws at you (I’m 30+ years out high school, and still remember the lunacy), you’re going to be just fine – better than fine. We need adults like you, and lots of us are rooting for you!

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