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Cool should be defined by what makes you, individually, think that something is special

PMG FILE PHOTO - Kaleigh HendersonIn high school, being cool is everything. You need to wear the hottest clothes and listen to the No. 1 hits and buy the coolest signature coffee from the chic drive-thru coffee shop. Blending in is the key to being popular, and being popular is the key to eternal happiness and success — according to a 17-year-old.

So when I found myself walking through the halls of West Linn High School on an otherwise normal Tuesday morning, wearing pajamas, a polka dot bathrobe, and a pair of fluffy pink Pygmy Puff bedroom slippers, it should have been a catastrophe.

I was the only person in the very crowded hall wearing pajamas, and everyone was staring with confused looks or laughing. This could easily be considered the average high schooler's worst nightmare.

However, I was expecting this. It was spirit week at the high school, and that particular Tuesday's theme was pajama day. Over the course of the day, I saw fewer than a dozen pajama-sporting students. Everyone else, including my teachers, either didn't remember, didn't care, or honestly had no idea that it was spirit week at all. That made me miss middle school.

There are not very many times in a high schooler's life (scratch that, anyone's life) where they miss middle school. Middle school is the epitome of awkwardness and humiliation, where puberty and hormones are at their peak.

But middle schoolers don't yet know to be embarrassed about spirit days. Spirit week is the most fun week of the whole year. Everyone goes all out. People wear Halloween-level costumes and do their hair crazily and plan weeks in advance exactly what they're going to wear in order to put the absolute maximum effort into their school spirit.

So what changed between middle school and high school? I think that puberty is part of it. Kids start looking like adults, so they try to start acting like adults, and apparently wearing strange outfits to school isn't a very adult thing to do. But I'd bet that it's mostly peer pressure. It's that push to fit in, to be popular and normal and cool.

Whatever that means.

For middle schoolers, "cool" means pushing the boundaries, rebelling, doing something so crazy that no one would expect it. Going absolutely insane for spirit days is the definition of middle school cool.

But for high schoolers, "cool" means something else entirely. It means following that super popular trend, listening to that new super popular album and watching that new super popular movie that everyone seems to be talking about.

It means taking tons of selfies and food pictures, posting only the most aesthetic ones to your InstaTwitterSnapBook page, and getting "liked" and "friended" and "followed" until you know more people digitally than you know in real life.

Spirit days aren't aesthetic. They're not the chill, laid-back, effortless look that teenagers, ironically, put so much effort into achieving. They're weird, and weird is the kryptonite of popularity.

So people don't participate. And then whoever is planning the spirit day expects people not to participate, so they put less effort into planning and getting the word out. So people don't know and people don't participate. It's a vicious cycle that ends with not having spirit days at all.

The problem that's getting in the way of school spirit is the idea of "popular" and the idea of "cool." Right now, what's cool is being dictated by everyone around you.

To find out what's cool, you have to look around to see what everyone else is doing, or read about it in those tabloid magazines they sell in supermarket checkout lanes. In our society, cool and popular are synonyms. But what if popular wasn't a deciding factor in what is cool?

If you took the brand logo and social reverence off of these super popular items, would they really be as cool as they seem? Take the Starbucks logo off of that cup of coffee and it's just a ridiculously overpriced, somewhat decent coffee.

Take the PINK logo off of that white shirt and it's just a normal yet expensive shirt. Take the Apple logo off of AirPods and they're just these $100 gadgets that cost $100 too much considering how ridiculous they look and how easy they are to lose.

Cool shouldn't be defined by what is popular. Cool should be defined by what makes you, individually, think that something is special.

For me, cool is dressing up like a lunatic on spirit days, just because I can. Cool is lugging around my wheeled backpack like a suitcase and not having to break my back under the weight of my textbooks. Cool is covering everything within a mile radius with cake batter, paint, ink or glue, because my creativity is beautiful and messy. That is what makes me smile; that is what lets me thrive when I'm just trying to survive. That is my definition of cool.

Let's make the right kind of cool popular again.

Kaleigh Henderson is a junior at West Linn High School.

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