They despise you. You stand in the doorways and you don't know where you're going and your clothes are ridiculous.
But don't take it personally, freshmen.
It's not like your fellow students loathe you, the individual flesh-and-blood human being. They just feel that way about your entire class - basically, the concept of you.
"They're pretty annoying in the hallways, I'm not going to lie," said Jamie Axe, a Sentinel High School senior. "It's like I'm walking around children. They're so small. And they get smaller every year."
But hey. Axe was once one of you. So really. Nothing personal.
In fact, she sort of wants to be you again. Three years ago, she entered her freshman year and quickly proceeded to screw it up.
"I didn't exactly do the work I was required to do, problem A," Axe said.
Problem B? A very premature case of "senioritis."
Problem C? The hubris and shortsightedness of youth. "I mean, I paid attention and stuff, but I didn't really have an appreciation for the education I was getting."
Jamie Axe quickly righted the ship by dropping the anxiety and concentrating on her grades and school work. And she, like others who survived their freshman year - and you will survive it, too - has all sorts of good advice to give you, the freshman, as you may or may not be quaking in your Converses at the dawn of your high school career.
But first, let's hear from some of you, on this, the eve of a new school year.
There's Hannah Boyer, an incoming Hellgate freshman from C.S. Porter Middle School.
"I'm pretty afraid because a lot of my friends are going to another school," said Hannah. "And I've heard it's confusing but then it gets awesome."
It was Boyer's brothers who ended up reassuring her, with words of experience.
"My brothers went to Hellgate and they both said it's an awesome school and that nobody really judges you," she said.
It's your peers who will create much of your anxiety. That, and just the mere size and scope of things.
Said Ben Charlson, an incoming freshman at Sentinel High School:
"I'm not really afraid, but I think about how big it is and I'm kind of anxious," said the former Meadow Hill student.
All those classes. All those choices. It's a tough time to be a newbie.
"I think that's the part I'm most anxious about," said Ben, who is comforted by the fact he has several friends in the upper classes. "They will be more like classes that are set to me, instead of just basic classes."
On his slate? Honors geometry, drama, modern world history and others.
High school may be even a little more stressful for a freshman who's always been in a private school but will step into the public school system on Monday.
"I'm really anxious about it," said McKayla Hoedel, who spent the last nine years at St. Joseph School. "I have no idea what to expect."
OK, a little bit of an idea.
"With so many more students, it's going to be a lot harder for the teachers to get to know an individual student," said McKayla. "I'll have to work harder to be noticed by the teacher."
But when it comes to school work, be not afraid, said Iris Olson, a Hellgate junior (here begins the advice section of this story).
The Missoula County Public Schools district has made the transition from middle school to high school so easy that "it's pretty hard to screw up your freshman year," said Olson.
"What you should be worried about is your sophomore year," she said. "That's when you start taking all the AP classes. It's like, ‘Oh, I have to start doing my homework now.' "
Too many freshmen build up anxiety and even fear of life inside the walls of high school. But Olson has this to say to you: You've already survived the worst years of school life.
"Even the worst high school experience is better than middle school," she said.
Here's some more tangible advice from Olson and Axe.
- 1. "Get involved in any way you can," said Axe. Band, drama, athletics. You meet lots of friends that way and your esteem will rise in the eyes of older students.
- 2. Learn the shortcuts, said Olson. "If you're afraid of getting lost, you should just walk around when there aren't many people around and learn where all the shortcuts are in the building."
- 3. Avoid senioritis and settle in for a four-year stay, said Axe. "My sophomore year, I dated a senior and we just kind of fed off each other with senioritis."
- 4. Bribe your counselor with yummy caffeinated drinks from the drink cart, said Olson. "Find out what your counselor's favorite drink is and bring it to them, so you can get your schedule changed if you need to."
- 5. Take advantage of every educational opportunity, said Axe. "I just grew up and realized that this is the last time in my life that education will be free."
- 6. Take driver's ed, said Olson. "Unless you want to be a junior who can't drive, and you don't want that."
- 7. Join speech and debate. Or drama. Or any of the myriad clubs, said Olson. "Not so it can enrich your life. But so you can meet people."
And remember, too, that the stigma of being a freshman comes with the territory. There is nothing you can do to completely erase it.
Because Olson, as much as she empathizes with you and wants to help you, also believes this:
"The sad truth is that everybody hates freshmen - not the individual, but just freshmen. They're short and they wear stupid clothes and they stand in your way in front of classrooms," she said.
Then she paused. And her scathing indictment of you turned to one last helpful hint.
"Hey, there's some advice - don't congregate in the hallways. Because you're going to get shoved out of the way and you're going to deserve it."
Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.