Opinion | What I Learned When I Reopened My Middle School Yearbook


H.A.G.S. (Have a Good Summer)

I don’t know how I feel about adulthood, so I called my middle school friends.

[PHONE RINGING] “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Hello?” “Sean?” “What up?” “I was flipping through my eighth grade yearbook.” “Oh, dude, I was going through my yearbooks just a week ago. “And you wrote in my yearbook, ‘Keep in touch. Sean loves Way. Have a bitchin’ summer.’” “Oh my God, stop.” “Being an eighth grader means taking on a whole new responsibility. ‘I’m a boss,’ said Fahad Manzur.” “So dumb, dude. So dumb.” “Anyways, I thought of you when I was flipping through the yearbook, so I thought I’d give you a call, see what you’re up to.” “I haven’t seen you since high school, Sean.” “I was like, he’s probably butt-dialing me.” “I’m just trying to go grab some coffee.” “Gym, work, adult things, I guess.” “Just freakin’ living life.” “Can I call you later? I was going to shave my head and take a shower.” “Wait, what?” “I’m actually about to pull up to the mosque.” “I’m going to get breakfast right now, but I’ll text you later.” “Oh, OK, yeah.” “OK, bye.” “Bye.” “Adiós.” “What about you? What’s going on in your life, man?” “I’m good, you know, working, figuring it out.” “Like you’re always doing something film-related, right?” “Trying to, yeah. How are you? How’s life?” “I’m just freakin’ working at this restaurant job, trying to fix my back so I can start dancing 100 percent.” ”(SINGING) Don’t need no introduction, I’m a fool.” “So that’s, like, a really slow, arduous process.” “Honestly, eighth grade Fahad confidence is unmatchable, dude.” “Do you think you peaked in eighth grade?” “Maybe not eighth grade, maybe — maybe close to it, though, maybe ninth grade. How were you in eighth grade? Like, how did you feel?” “I was in my whole Warped Tour scene phase.” ”(SINGING) Cock it and pull it.” “I remember people were always like, you’re the coolest Asian I know.” “Dude, I clearly remember that. Someone told me, like — said you’re the hottest Indian guy she’s ever met. I felt so happy to hear that, but I was like, oh, that’s … Like, yeah, I don’t know.” “What do you miss most about that time?” “Riding the bus.” “Oh my God.” “It was definitely not your ordinary bus, that’s for sure.” “40 or 50” “Kids from all different backgrounds.” Raising hell.” “Completely unsupervised, crazy … going on.” “Hella loud.” “Bloody knuckles.” “Getting hyphy.” “Borderline P.D.A.” “Pissing in a soda and stuff.” “This is a public zoo.” “Body shots.” “There’s no keeping it clean.” “I remember trying to make a scene or something.” “Do you remember this guy named … ?” “And I announced to the bus —” “He was kind of an … ” “I’m going to snort this whole handful of sugar.” “He, like, put me in a headlock.” “And then I literally snorted that whole thing.” “I just punched him right in the face.” “I remember walking home hella proud with this sugar drip going down my nose.” “And he’s like, what the … dude? And I was like, you what the … man!” “I don’t remember how people reacted.” “Not chill at all.” “Yeah, like, I was honestly really weird back then, like I was always trying to, like, put on for people.” “Yeah, but it was also like, we were 13.” “Yeah, that’s true. Times are different now.” “How do you feel about growing older, like, is adulthood what you expected it to be?” “Uhhhhh.” “Definitely not. There are some aspects of my life where I feel like I have not grown up, and everyone else has. I don’t know if that makes sense.” “That makes sense. I’ve been thinking about how my parents immigrated to America when they were 26.” “Wow.” “I turn 26 next week, and I feel like I’m still figuring out who I am.” “I think one of the things that I realized is that you’re always figuring it out. I was talking to my dad about this the other day too. He had me when he was 30 years old. I don’t think I’d be ready to have a kid at 30. I have no idea, like, it’s crazy.” “It’s so interesting flipping through the yearbook, and like, half these people are married now. People we knew, like, had kids. And I’m just like, when did that happen?” “And then I’m like, damn, I’m just over here, working at a restaurant and convincing myself I can make it as an artist. That sounded kind of depressing.” “I definitely see parts of myself in my mom and in my dad. But I also think that it’s hard for children of immigrants to 100 percent feel like their parents.” “I have these dreams and ambitions, but there’s always a little bit of fear that I’m always like, what if it doesn’t work out?” “Yeah.” “The struggles that we go through are completely different from the troubles they go through.” “From a different perspective, I already have everything made.” “Their life was also way more innocent back than too.” “I’m alive. I have the privilege to pursue my passion, you know?” “If they went to something like a rave, they would have lost their minds.” “So, in that sense, I’m actually pretty happy. I’m already living the American dream. But yeah, sometimes I’ll just like, get in in my head about that. That’s life, I guess.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “Flipping through the yearbook is such a crazy time capsule.” “Yeah, I honestly hella miss that time.” “You don’t have any perspective on how quickly your life moves until after it’s passed you by, right?” “Yeah.” “So who knows? Like, when we’re in their 40s, we’re going to look back at 25 years old. And we’re going to be like, I’m still a boss, dude.” [LAUGHTER] “I’m a boss, still that cool. Anyway, I’m going to go pick up my coffee, but I’ll talk to you later.” “Yeah, thanks. Thanks for the call.” “Yeah, I’ll talk to you soon.” “OK, sounds good. Have a good day, bro.” “Yeah, have a good summer.” “Peace.”

By Sean Wang

Mr. Wang is a filmmaker.

As I approach my late 20s, I find myself constantly swimming in thoughts about my future. The anxiety I feel is amplified by how monumental this period was for my parents: At 26, they left behind their community in Taiwan in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their children in America. I’m now the same age, and I can think of little that could convince me to uproot my life and seek opportunity in a faraway place.

Maybe that’s the single greatest privilege of my life — because of my parents’ sacrifice, my biggest challenges lie in navigating my sense of identity, fulfillment and the pursuit of my own dream of being a filmmaker, the sort of dream they never had the luxury of having.

In the short documentary above, I revisit a more innocent time in my life: middle school in Fremont, Calif. Flipping through my yearbook made me curious about how old friends who signed “H.A.G.S.” (Have A Good Summer) and doodled Sharpie penises were handling adulthood and the uncertainty about the future — so I decided to call them and find out.

Sean Wang is a filmmaker and a 2020 Sundance Ignite fellow.

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