There’s a special group of songs, clothes and movies that take me right back to middle school. From Flo Rida’s 2008 pop hit “Low” to overpriced Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts that say only “Abercrombie & Fitch,” these little triggers will undoubtedly transport me back to simpler, more awkward days.
But nothing can quite top the powerful reach of “High School Musical,” a movie franchise made almost exclusively for suffering middle schoolers looking forward to the grown-up appeal of those special ninth through 12th grade years. The three-part series tells the tale of brainy, beautiful Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Hudgens) and idolized basketball stud Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), who bond over secret singing talents and eventually fall in love on the musical theater stage of East High School. Trapped by the teenage stereotypes that dictate the school’s cliques (athletes, nerds, skaters, etc.), the two young risk-takers decide to take a chance and audition for the school musical despite the alternate wishes of their friends and parents.
With all the clichés that fill the halls of East High, there’s an understandable tendency to make fun of the series, especially when counting the many scenarios in which each of the main characters burst into song: in the cafeteria, on the golf course of a high-end summer resort and even in the middle of the last basketball game of their high school careers. Additionally, all three films tend to oversimplify the complexities of teenage popularity, peer pressure and first relationships, setting arguably unrealistic expectations about high school in the minds of their young viewers. But despite the disregard for some of the darker concerns that affect many American high school students (remember, these were made for Disney Channel), the series still imparted quite a few pearls of wisdom that even pertain to life after graduation day.
“High School Musical” taught the world that intelligence is sexy; that it’s possible to balance academics and extracurricular activities and love; that trying new things will change your life; that we need to question the status quo; that karaoke night is usually a good idea; that dreaming big is an important part of climbing the ladder of success; that true friends are always by your side and that female musical theater stars who also win scholastic decathlons and work as lifeguards over the summer are very in-demand at Stanford.
But most importantly, the saga of the East High Wildcats taught us that we’re all in this together – a truly important message in the divided social climate of modern-day America.
Love or hate “High School Musical”? Let Georgina Grant know at gagrant ‘at’ stanford.edu.