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High School in Utah can be Tricky for Non-Mormons

My 15 year high school reunion came and went this past year. I wasn’t in attendance and I’m not even sure if my class did anything for the reunion. I didn’t get an invitation to one and none of my high school friends, who I still communicate with, received an invitation either.

I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if a reunion was held and only certain people were invited. It would have been a high school reunion after all.

My high school, like probably most high schools, had its varying groups of students. There were the jocks and the preppy kids, the hipsters, the average kids, the cowboys, the skaters, the stoners, and the nerds. Most of the students fit into one of those categories, but there were students who didn’t quite fit into any category.  Those students floated from group to group and never really fit in anywhere.

For the most part, all of the groups got along with the exception of the jocks and the preppy kids. Most of the students in that group fit the typical stereotype of arrogance and entitlement. There were exceptions, however. Some of those students were always friendly and went out of their way to make sure everyone felt accepted.

I didn’t belong to the jocks and preppy kids’ club. My friends and I mostly stayed to ourselves. We probably all fit in with the average students. We all played sports, but we weren’t preppy and we weren’t all that interested in the things the jocks and preppy kids were interested in. We used every opportunity we could to play basketball. When it came to being bullied or bullying other people, we didn’t really experience much of it.

My wife, on the other hand, had a miserable time while she was in high school and the main reason she had such a bad time in high school was because she wasn’t Mormon. I’ll bet most people don’t understand why her being Mormon mattered so much. To be honest, I didn’t really understand it until a few months ago when my best friend came to visit.

The Mormon culture dominates most schools in Utah. Mormon kids develop friendships with other Mormons well before they end up in school. Those relationships carry over into school and those who aren’t Mormon are easily identified as non-Mormons. Some Mormon kids apply a stereotype to the non-Mormon kids. They believe that the non-Mormons don’t share the same values and morals unless those non-Mormons prove otherwise.

My best friend grew up in Utah. We hung out together in high school and he eventually became my college roommate. I never cared that he wasn’t Mormon. I never chose my friends based on their religion, which is how I think most Mormon kids approached friendship.  So on the surface, it seems like everyone should have gotten along and nobody should have felt excluded.

The problem was that as some Mormon students who hung out with non-Mormon students realized that non-Mormon students had the same values and morals as them, they would ask the non-Mormons why they weren’t Mormon. It was as if they assumed that anyone who had good morals and values had no reason not to be Mormon. It made no sense in their minds that a good person could be a non-Mormon and still be a good person.

My best friend didn’t drink alcohol. He didn’t smoke cigarettes. He didn’t swear. He didn’t lie and he didn’t cheat. He was a good kid all around. He was friendly to people and he always tried to do the right thing. But he wasn’t Mormon. He was a Catholic. But he got asked why he wasn’t Mormon probably a thousand times. And each time someone asked that question, he felt judged and he felt more and more like an outsider living in Utah.

To a Mormon, asking that question may not seem like a big deal, but it’s the main reason my friend fled Utah at his first opportunity and why he now despises Utah. He gets anxiety when he enters the state and cringes when he hears the name.

Just like Casey, he felt like an outsider while going to high school and it shouldn’t have been that way.

After having lived in Indiana for the last six years, I think Mormons in Utah need to learn how to be much more accepting of people who aren’t Mormon. It would go a long way to keep kids like Casey and my best friend from hating their adolescent years. They need to be more willing to accept that there are lots of good people in this world and that it just happens to be that some Mormons make up a small portion of that large group.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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