People have mixed feelings about their high school lives. For some, it was a pleasant experience, for others a time of torment. Most of us, even those with positive memories, would not seek to relive those experiences, though we may wish we had done some things differently and fantasize about an alternative history where we did not waste opportunities.
But there is the occasional person whose desire to relive their high school experience is so strong that they are willing to adopt a new identity, even committing fraud, in order to do so.
On September 2, 2008, a shy, blonde transfer student strolled into Ashwaubenon High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The petite sophomore wore a pink hoodie and carried a new school bag decorated with hearts, eager to start the new term. But just 16 days later, she was standing in court wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and shackles, charged with identity theft. There, prosecutors revealed that Wendy Brown was not really 15, but a 33-year-old mother of two—who had stolen her teenage daughter’s identity in an attempt to relive her own high school days. In her weeks as a student, Brown had taken classes with students half her age. She had tried out for the Ashwaubenon High School cheerleading squad and even attended a pool party thrown by the cheer coach.
Back in her home state of Illinois, Cass County state’s attorney John Dahlem recognized Brown on television and asked the question on everyone’s minds: “My first thought was, ‘why would you want to go through high school again?’” he told a local newspaper.
Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist, says: “Many people focus on choices they made—or chances they didn’t take—as a way of grappling with understanding their current circumstances.” For example, in 1986, a failed athlete named James Arthur Hogue, 26, posed as a 16-year-old boy and enrolled at Palo Alto High School, where he won one of the most prestigious high school cross-country races in the country. In 2009, Anthony Avalos, 22, faked a birth certificate on his computer so he could play basketball for Yuma Union High School, and aim for a college scholarship.
In an interview, Brown recounts an appalling high school experience, the place where her life started to go downhill that led to her becoming pregnant, dropping out, a failed marriage, and a life of petty crime. She wanted a do-over. And she succeeded for a few weeks until she was caught and became the butt of a second round of high school ridicule and was committed to a mental health care facility for three years..
She seems to be turning her life around, getting her GED in 2008 while still in jail and being treated for breast cancer, and seems content with her life now.
So she has conquered her high school demons.