We Asked the Popular Kids in School if They Knew They Were Popular

"I did know, but only once I’d been welcomed by the coolest people."

19 February 2021, 1:15am

Every high school had a popular kid: the one with the brand-name clothes, million dollar smile, and bulletproof sense of self. Many of us spent our youths trying to emulate these people, or at least befriend them, because we wanted what we assumed they had in spades—friends, sex, and happiness.

But did they really? Were they actually as happy and comfortable in their own skins as we assumed?

To find out, we got VICE writers to reach out to the coolest and most popular kids from their high schools to talk about teenage success, and whether it translates into successful, happy lives.

Claire with Kieran during their school years on left. Kieran as he is today on right.

VICE Writer Claire Sullivan spoke to the coolest person in her school, who also happened to be her brother, Kieran.

Everyone liked my brother. Like everyone. Kids in my classes throughout primary and high school would come up to me and ask why my brother Kieran was so cool when I wasn’t. He was voted primary school captain in grade six and school captain in grade ten. He constantly had cool and hot girlfriends. He was in a band and in the athletics team and the teachers loved him and this was all very annoying for me.

Claire: Okay, so firstly did you know that you were the coolest/most popular person at school?
Kieran
: No, I was deeply anxious.

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Oh really? I didn't know!
I think it was just because of my ADHD that I liked talking to everybody, and still do. Although, then again I did do “cool” stuff like play in a band and do some very shit skating and I was wearing Ray-Bans in 2005 and no one was wearing Ray-Bans until 2007. But honestly I think I’m cooler now, because I like myself more and the things I do, and that’s in a large part because I’ve gotten sober and been diagnosed with ADHD.

Why do you think, now upon reflection, that people thought you were cool?
I just think it was because I was friendly and made jokes. In primary school I hung out with the boys that were all wearing the good brand clothing and would talk to the pretty girls, so that set me up in good stead for high school.

Do you think other popular kids in high school actually had loads of anxiety about it?
Well, yeah. A girl I knew in the cool group at [an all-girls school] once said to me that she liked being there rather than at [a co-ed, free dress state school] because she knew where she stood. I think the genuinely coolest people are just born confident. Everybody else is anxious. Andrew WK is very naturally cool.

Do you think social success in high school is an indicator of how successful someone will be later in life?
Nope, not at all.

Would you call yourself successful now?
I’m happy and spend most of my time doing what I enjoy doing and that’s what I call success. But I was a real fuckwit in my 20s, which set me back a lot. When I can live off of doing the things I enjoy doing, then I would say I’m successful. But that’s not very Tibetan Buddhist-ish. The song “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You” [by Ben Folds] comes to mind here.

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I love that song. So what do you label as success these days?
I’m sober now and that’s a success. I sought out a diagnosis for ADHD, that’s a success. These days I am still interested in lots of things and I like talking to lots of different people, that’s success. I’m still working at not being a fuckwit, which is a success in progress. I’m overcoming being suicidal-ish and morbidly depressed, which is a success. Plus today I just home-made gluten-free pasta for the second time and my housemates thought the sauce was a massive success.

I like all those success benchmarks.
I’m not being a dickhead anymore and I’m being a good dad. They’re probably the things I should be the most proud of.

VICE Writer Sarah Lempa spoke to Jessica Sammoun

Jess has always had that "I'm here" type of energy that commands attention. She's outgoing, authentically herself, and says whatever the hell is on her mind. To be honest, it cracks me up and also terrifies me at the same time. Coolness, to me, goes far beyond trendy outfits and social events—and although she's got the style down, it's her zesty, outspoken personality that really makes me want to hang out with her.

Hey Jess, did you know you were the coolest person in high school?
I did know, but only once I’d been welcomed by the coolest people. The coolest kids didn’t reach out to me initially. But it happened after the coolest guy in class started talking to me. People would change seats around the classroom depending on their social status, sorta like the “cool corner” or the back of the bus. What happened was the seat in front of this cool guy was empty, and I thought maybe he had opened the spot for me. So I went and sat there. And then we dated and over time, I started to become “cool” and way more comfortable in how I was dressing and acting.

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Why do you think people thought you were cool, initially?
Well, I guess I was kind of foreign and interesting to them since I came from Canada and I was the new girl. My Canadian accent was so strong and everyone knew the coolest guy in school liked me. So then other guys started to like me. It’s real funny, because I was actually bullied in elementary school back in Canada.

What do you think makes people cool?
I mean, back in those days, it was definitely all about the clothes you wore. We wore uniforms, but every two weeks we got to wear normal clothes. And oh man, that took so much thought. How you come to school—it was really important. Also, like, who you hung around with. And then maybe how much of a rebel you were.

And these days?
Now I’d say it’s more about what you’re doing. Your job, I guess? Or how you interact with people. Honestly, I’d still say clothes. I’d also say where you hang out is a pretty big factor.

Do you think social success in high school is an indicator of how successful someone will be later in life?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve seen plenty of popular kids from high school who are still stuck in that fame from high school.

Why do you think that happens with some of them?
I guess they feel like it was the absolute time of their lives. I mean, I had a freakin’ great time in high school, but there have been many other peaks since then. You really have to get out of your high school town. Travel, study, whatever.

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Would you call yourself successful now?
Yeah, definitely, I would. I’ve been successful in my goals, my career, feeling fulfilled and happy in a 360-degree way, not just in a social way. Successful in social status or popularity — I mean, I don’t want that stuff to be important to me anymore. I have bigger fish to fry. The priorities in high school were different to how they are now. Although I do still love when my phone is off the hook with plans [laughs].

Sarah in school on left, Sarah now on right.

Former VICE Managing Editor Wendy Syfret spoke to the coolest person in her school, Sarah.

The coolest girl was Sarah, who still holds the title of the nicest person I know. She stood out for a quiet confidence that meant everyone knew her, even if she wasn’t the most extra kid in class. She was the kind of person who remembered names, made a lot of earnest eye contact, and could see the good in pretty much anyone. She grew up to be a super popular yoga teacher with a very life-affirming Instagram presence, making her two rare creatures: a genuinely kind queen bee, and a yoga babe who won’t make you feel bad about yourself.

Hey Sarah, how did you find high school?
I loved every moment of it; I’d probably go back and do it all again to be honest. I’m one of those weird ones who looks back so fondly on those years. It was like being with your best friends every single day. I loved my teachers, I loved how small and intimate our school was, it always felt like a safe and encouraging environment.

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How would you describe yourself in high school?
Quite a confident young woman. Also super friendly. I feel like I made a real effort with all of my peers. I established a lot of great friendships. Looking back I would say I was very, very social.

Obviously, in my mind, you were the “cool girl” in school. Did you feel cool?
Um, I don’t know about the word “cool.” I felt very loved by lots of people around me, and I shared that same love back.

In school, how much time and energy did you spend on being liked?
We all get caught up on that a little bit—especially in those younger years. It’s something that’s important to a lot of people: to feel loved, to feel popular, to be seen, to be heard. But I tried to drop that a little. I found you go a long way by just being kind to people and genuinely caring about them.

You’re still so well adjusted.
I was kind of shocked when you messaged me. I definitely wouldn’t have put myself as the most popular girl in school. I was more concerned with sharing kindness I guess.

That is exactly what the nicest girl in school would say.
Maybe that’s what I’d prefer to be called, as opposed to the coolest girl.

Cohen and Laura during high school on left. Cohen as he is today on right.

VICE Writer Laura Roscioli talks with the coolest person in her school: Cohen.

Cohen never saw himself the way other people saw him; he did his own thing with his close-knit group of friends, and together they soared their way through high school as the most loveable group of babes. But I don’t think I ever told him how cool I thought he was.

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So Cohen, I have to admit I thought you were the “cool guy” in school. Did you feel cool?
I’ll take that as a compliment but I don’t think that was the case. There was definitely a “cool group” and I don’t think I belonged to that.

What kinds of people did you find cool in high school?
I just wanted to be friends with genuine, good people—that’s who I thought were cool. It was interesting to watch some people grow and mature towards the end of school, while some people just didn’t, which is when friendships began to fail. Remember that? It’s like some people thought they’d get somewhere simply because of their social status, but now they haven’t done anything since leaving. I still run into people sometimes who bring up stuff from year 12 and I wonder if they’ll ever grow up.

What even is social status in high school?
At the end of the day, social status in high school is complete bullshit. Imagine going into a workplace and saying to the boss “I was the cool kid in school.” It’s just not a thing.

Has everything panned out for you the way you thought it would after school?
Not at all. I was really into playing basketball and footy and to be honest, I really wanted to do that full-time. I was planning on moving to America to pursue it but now I’m doing business and engineering.

Why the change?
When I was in America I just decided that I didn’t like it very much. I didn’t like the college lifestyle, the fratboy bullshit. It just really wasn’t me. It’s pretty funny actually, because everyone was looking for someone to fit the profile of being “cool” and “hot” and I didn’t want to be that person.

How do you feel about me calling you, asking you questions about high school?
I think it’s really funny, you calling me about this. Like, it’s funny how outside perspectives of you are always so different to your own.

Tagged:

high school, cool, FRIENDS, status, popularity, how to be more confident, how to be pretty

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