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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

The Lowdown on High School

Updated: Sep 9, 2023


Fairview High School at the foot of the Rocky Mountain, Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado

“What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done,

and there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)


To attend high school in Boulder, Colorado, was in essence to be subject to the “values” and “mores”—or rather amorality—of that same city. As high school students at Fairview, we were trying on “real-life” situations for size. At least what we saw as real life. Fairview High School sat atop a hill overlooking most of Boulder. We did have a fair view from up there, but I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us at that age had more of a focus on our own interests, on our own desires and feelings, and for many of us on our own popularity or lack of it, than on anything else. Another thing about Fairview was that it was attended simultaneously by many students from financially affluent families and a good number of students from middle- to lower-income families. Most of the major rifts between students at the school were not based on skin color—as many today imagine all schisms must be—but directly and inadvertently on students’ economic situations and backgrounds. So, based on the above factors (along with others), what kinds of things were we “trying on” to see if they fit?


In some ways attending Fairview High School was similar to attending almost any other high school around the same time. We were the Fairview Knights. Our mascot, a knight-in-full-armor-clad manikin was always getting stolen by our rival high school, Boulder High. I’m not sure what we did in retaliation except beat them soundly in sports at every turn. When I first started high school, I went to every sports event to cheer our team on. Our sports teams, our marching band, our choirs, and a few other select groups excelled statewide and even in national competitions for excellence. We were so proud of ourselves when we weren’t busy destroying our reputation off-campus or before or after competition events.


Then, there was the usual—or was it usual?—razing of incoming freshmen cheerleading booster club members. There was one, not-so-warm night (in mid-September) not long after the beginning of high school, when I was pulled from my bed after I’d gone to sleep in my long, silky, clingy, revealing nightgown. (Who in my family was talked into letting them in?!) I was taken—quickly and roughly—with no wrap or cover, blind-folded, and dumped in the back of a pick-up truck with other confused, half-asleep girls: Eventually, to be taken to some open, gravel-covered area (in bare feet) and sprayed and plastered and doused with a variety of unknown (because we couldn’t see them) sticky, wet, gooey, and stinky substances. This was until we were one united mess, terrible to behold (I’m sure) and smell (for sure).


We were then driven around town a time or two (thankfully, hardly anyone was out to see us, it was so late at night) before we were finally delivered back to our homes. I was shivering with cold, discomfort, and by then, bitterness at being so crudely handled. I was utterly embarrassed the whole time because of how my hair and nightgown clung to my body in front of the instigators and anyone else who might have been out that night or peeking (like I did a few times, to try to see where we were). After being returned to my house, it seemed I spent a major portion of that night and some of the next day trying to get my hair and skin clean and trying to get rid of the stink. I don’t think my nightgown ever recovered. That “event” turned me off. My participation in that club from then on was half-hearted at best until I quit it altogether.


In my first semester of high school, I took driver's training. Lots of gory movies, first-aid dummies, and scares—with other student drivers—later, I graduated and soon after got my driver’s license. We had a pretty great instructor. I can still parallel park like a champ. I only hit our mailbox once during my teen driving career. My first and only “real” teen-age accident was running into another car when I was turning left out of a parking lot at night after work. (I still don’t think they had their lights on before it happened). Between that training and my dad’s great patience, while I was still driving with a permit, I ended up being a pretty decent driver in the end.


Besides driver’s ed, my favorite electives were the drawing and drafting classes that I took. I excelled in both of these and received a few awards from works that my teachers entered in relevant competitions—despite my initial indifference. I was surprised and flattered at how well these pieces did. In my senior year, I was voted female class artist by my peers for our Class of ’78. I was pleasantly surprised since I didn’t think most people in my class even knew or remembered I had artistic skills.


My favorite class in high school was math because our teacher was so good at teaching the subject and had a great and kind sense of humor. I got an “A” in Algebra 1, a “B” in Geometry, and a “C” in Algebra 2. Despite the teacher’s great teaching and encouragement, this trend didn’t seem very promising to me, so I stopped taking math classes. I had completed all that was required in high school. Why tempt fate, along with the many gods of Boulder?


Did I mention that much of the Boulder citizenry was into “alternate” religions—especially new age and eastern religions? This included my art teacher who said she’d find a way to haunt me if I didn’t keep on pursuing a career in art after high school (which I didn’t, yet I never felt her disapproving specter coming after me). I’m not sure how she thought she could do this, but she seemed to literally believe she could.


Fairview High School, Scale Model
Fairview High School, Scale Model

Even though our high school was trying some kind of “open classroom,” experimental building format and curriculum (or non-curriculum), core academics were still taught and required. Evolution taught in science classes was taken for granted. I didn’t even think to question its premises.


Ultra-feminism and a Socialist “equality” for all—Boulder’s heart-beat—were just part of the fabric of living in Boulder. I don’t remember these being taught in social studies. They were just the lens through which social studies, literature classes, and sometimes other classes were taught. Though I did question more radical stances on occasion. One of those times was when one of my tiny, female peers got super feisty in her determination that all men and women are the SAME physically in their bone and muscle structure. I believed all she needed was an anatomy class to see that this wasn’t true, but she wasn’t buying it. She was not willing to consider any other point of view. I’ve thought of her many times since then when I’ve needed to ask my husband to do something I was not physically able to do. And during childbirth... I’ve wondered if she ever relented; she was so adamant.


My rabidly-feminist art teacher repeatedly shared her opinion that I would be much better off in the world as a “free,” single, (maybe lesbian) artist than I would as a “stifled” wife and mother.


As I’ve mentioned quite a few times already, Boulder was more than open; it was an extremely permissive place. With Colorado University at its heart, it was, rightfully, well known for being the ultra-liberal city that it was. It was much more “liberal” or “progressive” than most of the rest of the country was, even then, in the ’60s and ’70s during the sexual revolution. It was extreme. (An extreme, as I’ll address below, that is now considered “normal” or “common” nationwide.)


Colorado University students were super (above and beyond) active in pushing for “freedom” and “equality” pertaining to sex, and in Boulder, there was a lot of public support for this. Apparently, CU students and Boulderites wanted to be free to “do” sex in any way they wanted, whenever they wanted to do it: in group orgies, homo-sex, sex in public, sex with other people’s partners—basically without limits. I remember a citizen in Boulder County, who, after a same-sex marriage was legally performed there (mid-’70s), declared he wanted a license to marry his female horse.[1] His horse was declared to be underage (at eight years old), so he wasn’t given a license to marry the horse he claimed to love.


While this may have been done as a counter-protest, it demonstrates that the social climate was seen as open to excess. Experimentation was the touted norm. It was pervasive and pushed, sometimes aggressively. For example, on one doctor visit for a wellness check, I was informed that I needed a psychological evaluation. The reason? I was still a virgin!


The doctor was very insistent that something had to be wrong with me. I’m sure there was something wrong with me, a tendency to deep depression for one, but this tendency had nothing to do with my sexuality. I’m sure of this now. Back then, I was only sure that the doctor creeped me out—big time—even though he was relatively young (probably in his thirties) and good-looking; he was fierce in his misuse of his “authority” as a doctor. I think he wanted to “help” me overcome my virginity. He was excessively in my space and pushy. It was a scary visit. I felt violated, even though I hadn’t been—physically. I’m glad we were at a public clinic where, apparently, there were some women caregivers present who thought my consent should be involved in anything the doctor did or ordered.


Boulder wasn’t the only sex-saturated city during the ’70s. This was when the “sexual revolution” had already taken off. Women were “free” to wear bikinis, mini mini-skirts and shorts, skimpy halter tops, or—why not—nothing at all. Active nudist camps cropped up across the nation. Mooning, also streaking—especially at sports events and colleges (and the Boulder mall)—became an almost common thing for a while. Whatever sex fad was going on around the nation, it probably had its roots in Boulder. If not, you could bet it was at least fully embraced there—fuel on the fire already burning hot on the altar to the goddess of sex (by whatever name).


What is now called sexual harassment was “in” then. Many movies that came out during and after that time heartily promoted it.[2] Our choir teacher—who everyone loved because he was so absolutely “cool”—was a notable example. He frequently made sexual innuendos and was crass in his flattery toward some of the prettier girls. He regularly brushed, ogled, and pinched some girls’ bottoms and breasts and elsewhere—those who seemed to feed on this kind of attention, or at least wouldn’t tell on him. Girls who would tell, or even talk about telling on him weren’t cool with anyone.


I think it was this over-popular choir teacher’s strong, corrupting influence that pushed our other, initially kind, gentle, and moral, but “boring” choir teacher toward becoming (in time) a hardened, lecherous, adulterous (he destroyed his family), alcoholic, who was finally not even able to hold a job as choir director at the high school (as the story went—I don’t think it was just gossip). I’m sure it wasn’t all the popular teacher’s fault, but I felt so angry at him—and saddened for this other teacher and his family—when I heard this news later.


The most prestigious choir (in the students’ estimation) that the popular choir director directed was “Excalibur,” a show choir, that featured, besides wonderful voices, the full, with no reserve, long (and short), tanned legs of all the females involved. I think their dresses were shorter than the cheerleaders’, and also had to have special-made underpants attached.


Speaking of cheerleading. In my first year of high school—with at least half of my heart—I aspired to be a cheerleader; failing at this (with more relief than regret), Excaliber became my next goal the following year. They were both doors to instant social status and popularity. I had a great deal of more-than-worthy competition for both. A lot of other more beautiful and outgoing girls were also trying out.


Eventually, I gave up pursuing these sexualized “opportunities” to show off my body in public all the time, recognizing these “chances” for what they were. Though, I should admit, a large part of that “recognition,” was tied to my initial great disappointment with not being chosen for the team or the choir and the feelings of rejection that followed. I also have to admit that the feelings of disappointment and rejection were short-lived since my whole heart had never been fully invested in either of those “opportunities” in the first place. (It’s just as well girls whose whole hearts were in it, “made it,” instead of me.)


In time, I began to tire of and even look down on the hyper-sexualization of EVERYTHING. In some instances, I overreacted with the opposite extreme of taking a severely judgmental attitude toward some of the more promiscuous students—which was super hypocritical considering my own dating and LDS dance practices. I secretly despised the young people at my high school who were especially “sex-savvy.” Many of the young women in the locker rooms before required PE (Physical Education) classes talked about birth control methods and supposedly having regular sex with their boyfriends. I’m pretty sure a few were hinting at having had abortions—which I didn’t quite pick up on until later. Abortion was kept super private, then. Because there was so much of this kind of “education” at our high school there weren’t a lot of observable teen pregnancies there. No one, of course, talked about sexually transmitted diseases.


Some young men from my high school and places I worked expected sex on a first date. When I inadvertently learned this, I did let them down—including a captain of the high school football team. After the first time this happened, I learned not to use the false excuse that I wasn’t on birth control pills. He might have a condom (luckily this first time, he was fresh out or had forgotten to put them back in his car)! I really wanted to be a virgin when I went to an LDS temple with my future husband to be sealed for all time and eternity.” I might do anything else, but not that. I had my standards! By mutual consent, there wouldn’t be a second date with me if this was the expectation.


I was heckled by some students, and even by some of my teachers for being a Mormon—really for having any moral standards at all. A few teachers brought my religion up in class to put me on the spot in relation to some “archaic” or “touchy” moral topic that they wanted to make light of. It didn’t happen often, but enough. I usually stood up for my beliefs and tried to make the teacher look stupid if I could. All the same, I remember feeling really uncomfortable, defensive, and afterward, outright antagonistic toward the teacher. In all those years, there was only one young man who stood up for me and called the teacher out for being a jerk. He was a hero in my eyes from that day on—though not a perfect hero, because he wasn’t LDS! (Yes! Maybe I deserved some of the ribbing I got.)


It wasn’t always all about sex. Something that made me even more uncomfortable than being invited to a skinny-dipping (swimming naked) slumber party was when the same girls from school, who used to play “Light as a Feather,” graduated to doing séances or playing Ouija board-type games at their slumber parties. I became hesitant to accept invitations. When I occasionally went to a slumber party, I didn’t participate in these games. Maybe because of dealing with depression, personally, the cold, dark spirits they were invoking were real enough to me already.


One time, another girl who was new to these slumber parties, had a similar reaction to mine. After joining in one of these games for a time, she came back downstairs where I was sitting (reading a book) in the living room of my friend’s house. She was trembling and crying. She had become terrified to the point of panic during one of these séances. I tried to help her calm down by praying with her. I didn’t know how to pray out loud for others, let alone regarding evil spirits. I did know God’s power is far greater than that of evil spirits. Praying just seemed like the only and right thing to do. I don’t know that I was of any help to her, but I hope God was able to speak comfort and peace to her past my bumbling prayer.


This was the last slumber party I attended with these girls. This kind of thing was too deeply personal for me. It didn’t seem to bother them in the least. They seemed to get a thrill from it and to consider me unduly concerned, if not just plain silly or naïve for being so “overly serious” about it and unsociable (by not joining with them in this at all).


Yes, my peers were experimenting with more than sex. And besides the occult, they were also experimenting with alcohol and drugs—sometimes hard drugs. I had no idea that my peers were “underage” for buying alcohol, or that marijuana and non-prescription drugs were illegal. I thought they were all legal, based on their availability and use. Though, of course, a lot of things still went on behind some parents’ backs—who were known not to approve.


One young LDS high school student stayed temporarily in our home so she could finish attending Boulder High School (Fairview’s rival)—when her parents moved to Utah to get away from Boulder’s influence. Neither her parents nor my parents realized she had been taking drugs as a habit. Until she just happened to have several intensely bad “trips” while she was in our home and tried more than once to kill herself while she was on these “trips.” She was just one of many young people within the Boulder community involved with taking drugs in this way. This was the closest I got to it. Some of my friends ended up being hard-core drug addicts before graduating high school, but I didn’t know about that until later either.


I did know that whenever someone’s parents were going to be gone—or sometimes with parental consent—there were some pretty wild parties. I went to exactly one of these parties for maybe fifteen minutes. It’s all I could stomach. I came after the party had started. After being offered, and turning down several drinks and other things, I made it to the coat room (someone’s bedroom). However, it was already in use by a “high” or drunk couple having sex. They weren’t even a couple that “belonged” to each other. They were cheating on their girlfriend and boyfriend—and the sad thing is, they probably didn’t even know it. I hung onto my coat and headed back to the foyer, wading through incoherent peers as I went. I walked forty or so minutes home in the dark rather than stay and wait hours and hours for a sober ride home.


After I left, I was told later, someone there who was “on something” walking through a large glass plate window. Soon, besides this person, others were injured as well by the sharp glass, but no one was able to attend well to them because no one was sober. I think someone’s parents were called at some point to get help. It was a mess, and they were all lucky everyone lived through it.


I know none of these kinds of things are new. They are as old as the human race. Some kind of similar experimentation has been resurrected in each new generation to one degree or another—maybe just not so freely and openly as it was in Boulder among my peers, teachers, many other Boulderites, and even many of my peers’ parents at that time in America history?


Though at that time, the USA was still considered a Christian nation, I believe a lack of healthy boundaries at home and school caused a hyper predilection in many of my peers to moral confusion, even to antipathy towards themselves and toward other people that was nothing like what Christ taught and exemplified. The unfeeling amorality allowed excessively cruel and competitive interactions to thrive. Besides an over-the-top emphasis on being “in” or cool at our school, there was sometimes an undercurrent of terrible indifference or antipathy, worse than hatred. Beyond the normal insecurities of adolescence, I believe this lack of boundaries, more than anything else, provoked the early, and in some cases life-long, abandonment to drugs, alcohol, and sex. And violence. At school. (Does any of this sound familiar yet?!)


Violence wasn’t uncommon. Even so, it always shocked and greatly disturbed me when it erupted. It often broke out verbally between the “freaks” (long-haired hippies and “druggies”) and the “jocks” (rich kids, mainly involved in sports); or between the “cowboys” and the jocks. It seemed like the jocks were always in the middle of it—usually after a bad party weekend. Sometimes you couldn’t even pin down a reason for it. People were just in a bad mood, that’s all.


Sometimes it went beyond words and became physical. It wasn’t just beatings. Sometimes there were knives involved, and at least one time, guns. A few times when I was between classes, I saw someone taken out on a stretcher by medics. This was basically an upper-middle-class high school in a city at the foot of the Colorado Rockies in the ’70s. It wasn’t “inner-city.” It wasn’t a third-world country. I know such things are much more common now in schools everywhere, but they weren’t usual then—except in our “experimental” Boulder high schools.


It also seems to me, now, that we had a much higher-than-average suicide rate. I shared in a previous chapter about my young friends who committed suicide in junior high. I knew of other suicide attempts by students in Boulder high schools (including the ones that happened in our home when our young friend was on a bad trip).


Suicide came even closer to home again when a friend, [*]Michael, died in a terrible car accident. Not long before this happened, I had been sledding with him and a small group of LDS kids. (He was not LDS but Catholic. His best friend was LDS.) It seems Michael got drunk on purpose, before driving and intentionally running into a large pole. His closest friend seemed to believe he had wanted to end his life. Michael didn’t normally drink or drive like that. We were all concerned for his soul. He was such a friendly, sweet, kind, all-around great guy. Would he still go to heaven? I was mad that the Catholic priest who officiated at his funeral wasn’t more comforting to his family or us. Before the service was over, I had decided this priest was clearly in the wrong. God would surely make an allowance for our friend. I believed Michael would at least make it to the middle, terrestrial kingdom of (LDS) glory.


Sometimes I wonder how I ever survived the sensually saturated, spiritually cold, sometimes very dark, and violent social climate of Boulder, Colorado, even with the loving parents and mostly-loving siblings I had. I nearly didn’t. Many times, I contemplated suicide—a few times seriously. (I will address this, along with the severe depression I struggled with, in another chapter.) To say that it was difficult growing up in this environment would be a gross understatement.


You may have noticed how Boulder’s social environment was in a sense, a sneak preview for me of the current “progressive” social and political climate in the USA. As most of the extremes I grew up with in Boulder have now become the “norm,” it grieves me to the core and sometimes makes me anxious—until I get my eyes back on the Lord and rest in His peace and power to redeem people and circumstances.


Though most of these extremes are “common” now, they are no less painful to individuals and hurtful to relationships and society now than they were then. These things being normalized doesn’t change the fact that these social-cultural behaviors have a traumatic and often spiritually deadening and hardening effect on young souls. The fruits of Boulder culture were harmful, destructive, and evil.


The only “cure” for any sick society, young people as well as old and everyone in between, is—as it ever has been—a return to the Lord, God. Now. A turning to Jesus, the Christ He sent to deliver us. God, through Jesus, can turn all things to our good. Even our worst mistakes are not helpless, nor is the “worst” person hopeless with Him. It may take years for Him to heal all our brokenness, open wounds, or soften our hardened hearts, or He may do it in an instant. Either way, nothing is impossible with God. Of this, I am a witness.


“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With [humankind] this is impossible,

but not with God; all things are possible with God.’” (Mark 10:27)


[*] Not his real name


 

[1] Wilde, Nate, “The Real Story of the Colorado Man Who Tried to Marry a Horse,” 95 Rock, Mar 6, 2023, accessed 8/21/2023, https://95rockfm.com/colorado-man-marry-horse/ [2] See the TV series, Magnum P.I. and others that came out during these years that were hugely popular and considered super “cool.”

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