It has been experienced by nearly everyone over the course of their schooling: the separation of the high school cafeteria experience. Social roles are very clearly defined in this unique environment. Although some may laugh at the portrayal of the stereotypical high school cafeteria seen in popular culture today, the media’s snapshot of the average high school experience is so funny in part because viewers know that it is a true representation of their high school years. What many remember about the high school cafeteria is not the food, which often was sub par at best, but the people they shared it with. In a way, the high school cafeteria scene can be broken down into several groups that are representative of the vast personality types seen in the typical public high school.
The first group that is usually portrayed as a separate entity in the high school cafeteria is the “popular” table. Often consisting of top athletes and their girlfriends, this table is almost an exclusive social club that one may aspire to join if they are willing to conform to the proper standards. This table is often characterized by extroverted personalities and sometimes excessive humor: many athletes and confident students are not afraid to express themselves in public. Many also share the mentality that their life is good, and have a positive worldview. This table may or may not be well liked by the rest of the school, but at any rate, they are considered “popular”. The table is not exclusive to athletes, but is open to anyone else perceived as having a high social status: perhaps the monetarily better off students or those with a considerably influential personality may work their way into the “popular” crowd. They are often seen by the remainder of the school as “perfect” or “untouchable,” regardless of their faults, however blatant they may be.
A second group in the cafeteria is colloquially known as the “jocks”. These need not be athletes, as is commonly assumed; rather, this group is characterized by people with very physical humor and a competitive personality. The jocks try to assert dominance over other members of their table, either by brute force or by establishing relationships with other jocks. The assumption that all jocks are athletes comes from the belief that all athletes are competitive: this is simply not the case. The jock table may consist of various individuals, from the physically strong to the mentally strong. As many of them play on sports teams, they are often united by a strong sense of loyalty to one another, and build generally strong friendships with those they have competed with over time. Many are united by their belief that they must prove themselves to their peers.
Another group traditionally represented in the cafeteria is that of gifted students, be they honors students or artistically talented. This group is very broad: divisions by table in terms of skill in academics or orchestra, for example, are common. These students, although separate based on areas of expertise, share in common a passion or motivation for their talent. They can be characterized as being either self motivated or externally motivated depending on their personal lives, but are all pushed to do well either by themselves or some other factor. Some may suffer from this pressure to do well, while others thrive under pressure and welcome the stresses that come with it.
The final group is those who are perceived as the social outcasts. They do not necessarily fit into any of those groups described above, as they are not extroverted, nor gifted in the traditional sense, nor physical in their humor. In general terms, the social outcasts are those rejected by the other groups. Outcasts often suffer from discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, or the way they choose to express themselves. This group too can be subdivided into smaller ones. These small tables often consist of those who have been rejected by the rest of the school for the same reason: ethnic groups are often represented in this fashion, as well as different religious groups or those who practice alternative lifestyles. Generally, those who are rejected by the rest of the school seem to stick together: they may feel that their rejection is merely a choice of their own, and not be upset about it. Conversely, they may feel that their rejection is the result of a problem with themselves or their views, and respond accordingly with periods of introversion interspersed with lashing out in anger. At any rate, the social outcasts usually find friendships and things in common with one another based on their status. Strong bonds may be formed in this way, such that the social outcasts are not the castoffs of the student body, but find comfort and enjoyment in one another, and build lasting friendships.
As can be seen by a breakdown of the high school cafeteria, personality types are highly important in choosing our relationships with others. In our lives, we seek to belong and to find common ground with those around us. This need to belong is evident in the high school cafeteria experience, and helps us identify those people who will become our friends. The social roles learned in the high school cafeteria do not last for our whole lives, but are representative of the personality types of individuals attempting to establish themselves within a student community. Whether you sat at the popular table or were a social outcast, the high school cafeteria can still be seen as an experience that is one of the first real interactions with a large social community.