Impact of High School on Adult Life?

“When you get to be our age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with … You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school.” Or so Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., said, referring to the words of a fellow Indianapolis grad. (Taken from Times article,9171,2076739-1,00.html) Is this true? Are we determined by our high school experience?

As a pastoral counselor and spiritual director, I’m well aware of the impact significant adults in our childhood have on us as we grow up. My doctoral thesis examined the connection between early childhood relationships and adult images of God. High school was never on my radar during my years of training, taking a far second to the impact of family life. It has only been since I’ve been doing research for my latest book project that the importance of high school has come to the forefront.

While the studies are not as extensive as those related to early childhood, the research has been increasing. There is evidence that patterns are set in high school that then follow the student at least through early adulthood, patterns that affect whether they go on to college, are successful in college and in life. Solid family relationships may help counteract some of the negative impacts of high school, but I didn’t find any research on whether this impact continues throughout adult life.

Anecdotes tell us that the ones who are popular in high school, the prom queen and the football star, aren’t necessarily popular all of their life. Anecdotes tell us that sometimes the ones who are most popular in high school are less successful in life, that they “peaked” while in high school and spend the rest of their life reliving their “glory days.” We see these characters in movies. But as far as solid research on the subject, there was none that I could find.

And so, I’m asking the question: how great an impact does our high school years have on our later adult life? What impact has high school had on you? How much do you remember about high school? I would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or email me at

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