Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Not another high school movie with college-aged actors!

Rachel Choi
Illustration Rachel Choi

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice. 

In 2019, I started my freshman year of high school with a basic understanding of what my new school would entail. Thanks to the dozens of coming-of-age stories portrayed in the media, I walked through those four years being able to relate to the angst and youthfulness of a John Hughes movie. 

There’s an infinite list of iconic high school characters, such as The Plastics from “Mean Girls” and Cher from “Clueless.” The film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” has become a symbol of teenage rebellion, teaching students to enjoy the most out of their adolescence. Modern shows like “Sex Education” dive into the Gen Z experience of high school and social media’s role in one’s young life. 

But when I went into my freshman year of college just seven months ago, I had no idea what to expect. Older relatives had always told me college was a “wild time,” “some of the best years of life,” and something to look forward to. But what does that mean?

To this day, there are only a handful of popular movies and TV series portraying the true college experience. “Pitch Perfect” gives us a glimpse into college students’ dedication to extracurriculars and the importance of pursuing our passions. The series “Sex Lives of College Girls” explores adjusting to a new environment while juggling romantic relationships and found family dynamics.

I would give a third example, but I genuinely can’t think of another.   

The media seems to be focused on high school, leaving college stories in the dust—despite the fact that in the U.S. alone, roughly 15.44 million people enroll in undergrad each year. 

College is the first time that many people live far from home. We gain an elevated level of independence while also adapting to an unfamiliar setting without our hometown friends or family. People we’ve known for less than a year suddenly hold great significance to us. College is a distinct time in one’s life, yet it is so rarely depicted in the media.

The high school experience is reflected in the media so much that it has become exhausting. I’ve watched dozens of coming-of-age films where the main character walks through the hallways feeling like they don’t belong to any cliques, only for them to recognize their true self and purpose at the prom.

However, there isn’t really any media depicting what it’s like adjusting to life in college: what it’s like meeting people from all over, or learning how to self-discipline with this new independence, or getting random waves of homesickness.  

Even when characters in shows graduate high school, the creators frequently choose to not make college a major plot point when going forward with the next season. After the 5th season of “That 70s Show,” all the characters remain in their hometown without pursuing a higher education, even though they had discussed their future plans for college in prior seasons. In “Glee,” the primary focus remains on the glee club at McKinley High, even though a majority of the main characters graduated. 

The disproportionate amount of high school media becomes concerning when we consider how a lot of the stories revolve around sex. Time after time, we are shown actors who are meant to portray minors engaging in sex on screen. “Euphoria” is a notorious example of this, with extensive nude scenes that have made audiences and cast members, such as Sydney Sweeney, extremely uncomfortable.  

It becomes even creepier when grooming is glorified by said high school media. Shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Riverdale” depict student-teacher sexual relationships, which is a crime, but played off as a juicy plot point to add to the drama. Intentional or not, this media reflects society’s twisted value of sexualizing minors, and passing it off as entertainment.   

Another issue with high school media is how often the actors themselves are not high school-aged. The average age of actors who play high schoolers in the media is 21.7, which is three years above the age that most teens graduate. 

The first week of college, a group of friends and I saw the high school comedy “Bottoms.” Although it’s an incredibly funny and well-made film, I couldn’t help but think about how all the characters are supposed to be younger than me, despite a majority of the cast being in their mid to late twenties. 

It’s logical for there to be more college representation, as actors would be playing characters that are closer to their actual age. It’s also less predatory to have sex scenes with characters who are of-age, consenting adults (as opposed to minors). 

More college representation will also be a catharsis for current college students, for they will have media that relates to their experiences. One of my favorite high school movies, “The Edge of Seventeen,” helped me navigate the intense loneliness and anxiousness I dealt with my sophomore and junior years. The main character, portrayed by Hailee Steinfeld, delivers a powerful monologue towards the end of the film where she vulnerably reveals how isolated she feels—an emotion almost every high schooler has endured. 

While I can still heavily relate to “The Edge of Seventeen,” I wish there was a piece of media similar but set in college with issues a college student may face. It would be comforting to watch a story of a college freshman managing their mental health in their new environment, something we see over and over again in high school media.

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