Musings + Essays

Things That Mattered to Me at 18.

By: Jen Shoop

Graduating first in my senior high school class.

Flat-ironing my hair.

The Ralph Lauren bedding my mother bought me for my college dorm.

The number of calories in french fries.

Maintaining an over 4.0 GPA.

The sale section at Victoria’s Secret.

The UVA bumper sticker I affixed to the back of the hand-me-down forest green Toyota Camry I shared with my sister.

Earning all fives on my AP examinations.

Having a date to senior prom. His name was Enrique and he was a grade school friend of mine I’d had a crush on for years. It was an awkward night made more awkward by the fact that I’d not actually spoken to Enrique in person for years prior to asking him out. But I had a date. And he was cute.

Chatting with my girlfriends on AIM.

My secret AIM handle.

Sleepovers at the homes of my friends Elizabeth and Nicole.

Visiting my brother at college and seeming cool to his friends.

Mastering the words to “Still Fly” by Big Tymers.

Lilly Pulitzer dresses and Jack Rogers sandals.

The pictures affixed to the inside of my locker — all blurry, printed in 4×6 at the MotoPhoto in Cleveland Park, and presenting various permutations of my girlfriends and I with our arms around one another at the beach, at parties, at dances, in backyards. It was an unapologetically conspicuous mosaic of my perceived importance to other people.

My Kate Spade planner and the gel pens I used to color coordinate school assignments in it.

The pearl necklace my parents gave me for my senior portrait.

The notes my girlfriends and I would leave for one another pinned to the message board on the ground floor of Founder’s Hall: all shorthand for inside jokes; all pointless save for the externalized gesture of our friendship.

My J. Crew clogs.

The approval of my parents.

The degree to which my banana yellow uniform polo shirt could be faded — a strange proxy for laissez-faire rule-flouting and seniority at my high school.

The possibility that the handsome Georgetown undergrads next door to my high school might see me driving down R Street with my music turned all the way up.

Meaningless flirtations with boys, from which my girlfriends and I would derive hours of analysis.

Having discerning opinions on books.

Appearing blase in response to the overtures of boys who liked me but who I deemed uncool.

Appearing blase in response to the absence of overtures by boys who did not like me but who I deemed cool.

Mixed CDs from my girlfriends.

The Aiwa multi-CD player my parents gave me for Christmas that occupied about half of my bedroom shelving.

The miniature size and neatness of my penmanship.

Josh Hartnett.

Getting into Princeton. (I did not.)

Disguising my red-hot envy and humiliation in response to the news that not only one but two of my best girlfriends got into Princeton. (Did I mention that I did not?)

Ralph Lauren Romance perfume and Clinique Dramatically Different moisturizer.

The length of my uniform kilt (short / short / short).


It’s strange to realize how little I valued the things that I would now give anything to reclaim: the fact that my maternal grandmother was still alive; the fact that I had flawless skin and a teenage body; the fact that I was not financially responsible for my life or its many comforts; the fact that my parents sat with me every night at the dining room table; the fact that I had my own bedroom in a beautiful stone house on a hill overlooking Rock Creek Park; the fact that I lived with the very best friends I will ever have in my life–my sisters–and I will never have the opportunity to spend so much sustained time in their presence again.

It’s also strange to realize that the only entry on this list that still matters to me today is the approval of my parents. I look back and have to suppress a desire to tsk at myself: “So much wasted energy.” But it wasn’t wasted energy. Features of prominence — test scores, applications, teen-sized relationships — loom, then recede, as we age, meaningful stepping stones to our future selves. So often, the mountains have proven to be foothills. But I’m grateful I took the ascent seriously at the time nonetheless: it has brought me here.

What did you care about at 18?


*Image above of Kiernan Shipka wearing Gucci behind the scenes of a shoot for AnOther Mag.

+I know it feels like an eternity until fall will be here, but we’re only a hop, skip, and jump away — AllSaints has two really, really good coats on serious sale right now that are worth considering: this quilted liner jacket (originally $350, now $140 — I wore a similar style ALL FALL last year) and plaid stand collar topper.

+Pretty top.

+LOVE the way this cotton maxi dress is styled with ballerina flats (still holding out hope for a pair of these, monogrammed, this fall). Going to try this look for everyday ease!

+A lot of you are very into this trend.

+On growing up with four siblings. And more on that subject here, too.

+Absolutely precious Proper Peony dress, on sale!

+A great sweater for fall — versatile but interesting.

+This $15 peter pan collar gingham dress for a little one!!!

+A cute way to celebrate your home town.

+Things I tell my sisters to buy.

+These are the kind of layering knits I live in come winter.

+A classic black loafer for $15. Perfect for wearing with literally anything in your fall wardrobe.

+Zimmermann vibes for under $50…and actual Zimmermann for $120! (Love the bows!)

+I don’t really wear much athleisure but I do love the dimensions and details on this sweatshirt, and I think I need these cashmere blend joggers.

+Absolutely LOVE these cute bee coasters! We have a lot of items with insects on them in our cupboard — bee glasses, dragonfly china, bee Laguiole steak knives. I need them!

+An absolute WORKHORSE for your closet. Timeless, ageless, versatile. Perfect outfit for a presentation at work!

+Love a good headband.

+In love with the fit and color of this midi skirt.

+A perfect beach coverup.

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19 thoughts on “Things That Mattered to Me at 18.

  1. I love love loved this post! And as a fello proud Visi grad, I must add Gold/White. The costumes, the breakfast the morning of, the cheer routines, the caravan. I still get excited thinking about it!

    1. Love that tradition and also Marshmallow Roast and, perhaps predictably as it centers around shopping, my personal favorite: the Christmas Bazaar. I felt like the entire school would buzz with pre-holiday excitement…


  2. Gah, this got me too! 18 year old me would have been soooo jealous of 18 year old you, haha. I grew up in Colorado and spent most of my high school years tearfully asking God why I hadn’t been born on the East Coast. I was *obsessed* with prep culture (or what I thought was prep culture, learned mostly from the hours I spent on preppy tumblrs and blogs and initiated by an early reading of Curtis Sittenfeld’s ‘Prep.’) Imagine me graduating in front of the Flatirons in a white, pearl detailed Lilly Pulitzer frock and Jack Rogers while all my classmates ambled across the stage in Birkenstocks and boho dresses. My mother and I had bought the dress from the Madison Ave store while I was touring colleges earlier that spring. My graduation present was the Barbour jacket I had coveted for months, which we purchased across the street. Walking towards Central Park with both heavy bags swinging on my arm, passing a sleeve of Laduree macarons back and forth with my mother with is one of my happiest memories. I had dreamed of owning these clothes and now I could say I bought them in New York City (!!!) on a shopping afternoon with my mother, just like all the girls I aspired to be like. For a dreamy Colorado girl whose home town didn’t even have a Nordstrom, it was absolute cloud nine. I wanted nothing more than to fit into the idea of “East Coast” that I had in my head, and that day felt like the first step into a new world.

    Unfortunately it was an ill fated love affair. Within weeks at college I was was reminded preppiness ‘isn’t learned, it’s inherited,’ as dorm mate chided me. Agh! I was so eager and naive! I struggled to find my place and never quite fit in. I’m back on the West Coast now, but I still have the dress and the jacket (and wear them both!) Part of me cringes at my 18 year old obsession but mostly I try to look back on her a with kindness. We all want to belong to something that enamors us and so much of 18 is striving, striving, striving for more.

    1. Oh Katherine! I so relate to the aspirations of your 18-year-old self and I so love the note that you “try to look back on yourself with kindness.” The sentiment and commentary here reminded me that in college, I had my brother and his friends drive down to UVA to paint the walls of my bedroom in a dilapidated college house a pastel pink and put up framed pictures of Jackie O. and Audrey Hepburn around the room. I remember my big sister in my sorority laughing mercilessly at me when she saw the room — “why are those pictures of celebrities framed?!” I look back and cringe at my desperate projecting, and also — it must be said — at the unkindness of my big sister (and your dorm mate!) in calling me out for it. But I will also look back with kindness on us all. We were just trying to figure ourselves out!


  3. Yet another post that struck me out of my multiple-tabs-open jumping about (I swear I’m attempting to work…) and arrested me into a deep pause and nostalgic reflection. Your writing is so striking in both its honesty and its thoughtful composition. Heavily identify with the type-A obsession of high acheivement in high school, especially with subtle (or not so subtle) competitition amongst peers and friends vying for class ranking, top test scores, and idealized affirmative college admission letters. On the flip side, also heavily identify with seeing how short I could feasibly roll my plaid uniform skirt, toy with the edge of allowable uniform shirt/accessory/shoe rules, flaunt photos of friends (except for me, it was on rudimentary early facebook albums!), and how desperately I wished anyone would notice my *equisite* music choice blaring as I drove around. Oh to be in your late teens and on the cusp of everything!

    1. Thank you for the tremendous compliments! I’m so glad this resonated with you. It was really fun (and cringe-y) to relive this time in my life. xx

  4. Well, this was a fun trip down memory lane! I chuckled at how much crossover there is between your list and mine, despite the fact that we went to very different schools — it’s funny to think back to the early aughts and how different things were! Yes to mix CDs, teen heartthrobs (though I personally fancied Paul Rudd in Clueless in the worst way), gel pens, college bumper stickers on my dorky sedan, and flatironing my hair! Haha.

    Also, my heart skipped a beat at your mention of J.Crew clogs — there’s an infamous anecdote in my family about the Christmas tree farm we used to patronize and how, one year in middle school, a Santa there magically guessed that they were atop my wishlist that year! Haha. So funny to remember this.

    I cannot agree more about the things you now value most from that time — I think about these all the time, especially living grandparents, getting to live with my three siblings, and having no care about finances because everything was being taken care of by my parents. I consider myself so insanely lucky to have had such a privileged childhood!


    1. I know, we are twin souls, aren’t we?! YAY I’m so glad someone else remembered those J. Crew suede clogs. They were EVERYTHING. I was obsessed with mine, which were a chocolate brown color and absolutely impossible to wear up and down the many flights of steps at my high school. I can remember many mild injuries from my high school classmates also attempting to wear J. Crew clogs that season. HA.


  5. Ooooo this was fun!

    My mom used to say, “it’s still your life and it’s happening now”, whenever my sister and I would say “well in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal” (boys, volleyball, college applications, friend drama). Her validation both made us see that our worries were trivial and everything at once.

    I too cared SO deeply about getting into an Ivy League school – I am now shocked at how I just expected that would happen and how I felt so cheated when it didn’t.

    The boy I had a huge crush on in high school whose football jersey I wanted to wear so badly and who didn’t really give me the time of day … he asked me out recently (7 years later!) and I found that he did not turn into someone I wanted to give any time to (although I do wish I had said yes to the date just for kicks!)

    The approval of parents though…will that ever go away? I recently asked my mom’s opinion on something under the guise of wanting to talk it out but really just wanted her to say that I was right and get her okay.

    1. Oh YES, Molly. I so relate to all of this, but especially the approval-seeking that still permeates my conversations with my mother. I need her to reassure me — still, at 36! Also I love the idea of your high school crush asking you out all these years later. The football jersey! That took me back to grade school, when cool girls wore their boyfriends’ starter jackets. Do you remember those?!

      Finally, what a beautiful thing for your mother to say — “it’s still your life and it’s happening now.” Borrowing this!


  6. My daughter is turning 18 next month and going into her senior year. We found out yesterday her school will be remote for first semester. This brought me back to my own senior year, yet made me feel sad for all she’ll miss. Luckily we’re all healthy and fingers crossed the end of the year may be partly salvaged.

    1. Hi Laura – I am so sorry to hear that! I so deeply feel for all of the school-and-college-aged children/young adults/adults who are missing out on not only the huge in-person milestones but the mundane everyday experiences. I admire your focus on the fact that you have your health; that’s the only silver lining to focus on at the moment it seems. Fingers crossed that we’ll be singing a different tune in the spring semester. xxx

  7. I love this post! It perfectly captured what was going on in our lives at 18. Even though our ultimate goals differed – your perfect GPA and my perfect pirouettes – it brought me right back to that time.

    I want to spearhead the unofficial Jen Shoop challenge to wear REAL clothes each day & get out of my ever present athleisure wear stylings. You inspire me!

    1. Aw, Katelyn! That is so flattering and VERY ironic as I am actually currently wearing leggings with the plan of going for a long walk in a bit. You caught me with my dress off! Ha! But I do try to get fully dressed every day — makes me feel better :).

      I was hoping I’d hear from some fellow Visi girls on this post. I had totally forgotten about the message board outside of Ms. Grimaldi’s office and WOW that took me right back. Hope you are well, friend!


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