Just as quickly as it came, summer is rapidly winding down and for kids and parents, that only means one thing: the first day of school is just around the corner. And while parents might be focused on the madness that is back-to-school shopping, most kids will find themselves dreading this looming date and not just because it means giving up days of leisure for homework, tests, and group projects. No, most of the true fear a kid faces heading into their first day of school stems from the fear of rejection — entering a new world only to find that world doesn’t want anything to do with them.
It’s an experience that every kid, from kindergarten to senior year, has felt. The terror of walking into class on that first school can be downright terrifying for anyone who isn’t sure of their place. Given the universal nature of this fear, it doesn’t come as a surprise that heading back to school has been captured time and time again on film. And yet, more than Grease, Mean Girls, or even Billy Madison, perhaps no cinematic experience perfectly captures the back-to-school spirit better than the X-Men movies (at least the good ones).
Yes, the X-Men Universe is beloved because of awesome characters with badass powers like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and that kid who can control a TV by blinking. But at its core, what has always made X-Men stand out is the unique way it frames the idea of having superpowers in the world and how that experience mirrors the experiences of feeling like an outsider. Fans of the franchise will know that mutants are naturally placed in the realm of other and are constantly left wondering if they could ever really belong somewhere. These are feelings that every kid has surely felt at some point in their life. Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters and, more importantly, what that school represented.
Because it wasn’t just a school for superheroes; the School for Gifted Youngsters was a place where outsiders were welcomed. Kids who had spent their entire leaves feeling like they were freaks who could never dream of fitting in suddenly had a safe haven where their differences weren’t just tolerated, they were understood and celebrated. Because the reason Xavier started the school wasn’t just to teach future generations of superheroes how to weaponize their powers, as he explained to Logan in the original movie, it’s a refuge that allows these kids to escape the world’s hostility and figure out who they are and who they want to be.
For proof, look no further than Rogue, the ultimate outsider, even by the incredibly skewed standards of being a mutant. While every mutant student feels some level of isolation from the outside world thanks to their abilities, Rogue feels that same isolation even when comes to the School For Gifted Youngsters thanks to her powers, which make human contact extremely dangerous and, at times, even fatal. And yet, she eventually is able to find friends and, against all odds, even manages to have a boyfriend thanks to some serious innovation on Iceman’s part. Rogue’s first days at school mirror the experience of a lot of kids, albeit a bit more extreme given the high stakes of her situation. She doubts that she will ever be able to feel like she belongs but over time, she finds a community that genuinely embraces her as one of their own.
And that underlying sense of acceptance wasn’t just there for the students. The teachers at Xavier’s School often had a similar experience of feeling like they were a part of something bigger than themselves for the first time, including fan-favorite Logan. Before teaming up with Professor X and his merry band of mutants, Logan was the textbook definition of a lone wolf. The idea of him willingly joining a group like the X-Men would have been laughable, to the point where he literally tells Xavier and Magneto to go fuck themselves the first time they try to recruit him. But over the course of the first X-Men, Logan learns to trust Professor X and the rest of the crew and realizes that this community and sense of camaraderie was missing from his life. And by the end of the first film, he’s not just a member of the X-Men, he’s secured his place as the bad boy with a not-so-secret heart of gold.
While it’s unlikely that most kids are dealing with retractable claws or the ability to suck the life out of people everytime you touch them, the character arcs of Rogue and Logan reflect what so many kids experience as they head into their first day of school. But these movies don’t just offer up a grim prognosis for kids who are feeling lost and leave it at that, they also provide hope in the form of Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters.
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And over the course of the franchise, viewers, and mutants alike are reminded that as long as there are people like Professor X, everyone will be able to find a place where they can fully belong. So whether you were the self-loathing teen just looking for a way to feel normal or the rebel whose ne’er-do-well attitude is secretly hiding your crippling loneliness, X-Men showed that things weren’t as grim as they might seem, especially in the context of something as existentially dread-inducing as that first day of school.