Ah, to live high school again. Or not.

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.


  1. says

    Surprisingly, this happens far more often than you might think (e.g. Charles Daugherty, Wendy Brown). If high school is the high point of anyone’s life, they’re probably 20 and working a fast food job.

    There was a 1987 teen movie called “Hiding Out” based on this premise, a stock broker evading the mob and their hitmen by hiding out in his old high school. You might recognize the hitman from Clint Eastwood’s “Firefox”.


    I’m not fishing for sympathy when I say that high school was bad but home was worse, both made bad by other people. What matters to me is thirty good years of adulthood by my own doing.

  2. Trickster Goddess says

    High school was a mixed bag for me since I moved around a lot at that time of my life. However I’m very glad for the year I spent as the only white student in an otherwise all First Nations (Cree) high school in northern Canada. It was a cultural and learning experience that I have always been profoundly grateful for.

    Plus, depending on the time of year, my daily commute to school was either by freighter canoe, Muskeg tractor, ice road school bus or, during freeze-up or break-up, by helicopter.

  3. hyphenman says

    High School, hands down the four worst years of my life.

    If you think the opposite, then you are living a very sad life indeed.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I received a private communication from someone who wanted to post anonymously on this topic and so I am doing it on their behalf. Here it is:

    I can kind of understand some of that from personal experience. What I went through was very different in detail but also had that dual problem of issues at home and at school.

    When you get hammered at home and at school it’s hard to find a safe place. Without one to retreat to it’s hard to grow as a person. If all you experience is pressure and stress it warps who you are. That is usually the point where someone either notices the problems you’re having and intervenes to rescue you or all the adults in your life abdicate their responsibilities and decide the real problem is you. They’ll claim you’re acting out or not performing well enough or something. Anything to blame it all on you. There’s sort of a third option where you get just enough help or find just enough access to a safe space to manage becoming a functional human being. The only actual good result is getting rescued though. Anything else involves more damage and with enough damage you can reach some pretty strange mental places. For example, one where pretending to be your kid and going back to highschool sounds like a solution to the life problems you can’t get away from.

    I guess the take-away from this is when you see a kid having really serious issues or behaving really badly there’s one key question that should maybe come to mind: “WTF are all the adults doing?” It’s not the only explanation (some serious mental problems are genetic) but it seems to be a depressingly common one.

  5. hyphenman says

    Reply to No. 5, Mano,

    Thank you for sharing your reader’s experience.

    One of the reasons that I continue to do the educational work that I do is that I’ve found a home in a district that takes these kinds of issues seriously.

    I now work in a room dedicated to being a safe place for all students. Daily we see fragile teens who just need a place to breath without concern for ridicule or worse.

    We need more schools that take this approach.


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